When it comes to procurement, school nutrition programs have a host of challenges to overcome. According to a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics in October 2022, 83% of public schools surveyed said they were experiencing supply chain issues, with foodservice procurement being the most evident.
In addition, nearly half said they’re combating supply chain challenges by offering fewer menu items, while others said they were purchasing product alternatives (47%) or using alternate vendors for the same products (40%).
What are the procurement challenges school nutrition programs are facing?
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, school nutrition programs are dealing with a challenging supply chain and decreased participation rates. With the end of free meals this school year, these programs are struggling to accurately forecast participation rates, with many programs reporting significant decreases. Food costs are soaring due to high rates of inflation and the supply chain remains stressed from labor shortages, ongoing war in Ukraine, and avian flu, to name a few factors. School nutrition programs themselves continue to grapple with adequate staffing and as a result, not having enough help can restrict what menus can be prepared and served.
On the procurement front, school nutrition programs continue to struggle to get the products that they need. Making things even more challenging, school nutrition programs have additional factors they need to consider in procurement. Is the product compliant with nutrition regulations and in the format that they need? Can they get enough of the product and in a timely manner? Will they be charged the budgeted or contracted price? All these factors have added additional layers of challenge to an already complicated purchasing process.
The industry side of the equation is facing its own set of challenges. K-12 nutrition is constrained by regulatory requirements and low-profit margins, making it less enticing for suppliers to place their focus. Factor in increased costs across the board for raw materials, packaging, labor, and equipment: it makes the situation even more complex.
What can be done to improve the situation?
If procurement continues to be a challenge for your school nutrition program, the team at NutriStudents K-12 have a few suggestions to make the process easier.