Procurement Challenges Persist: 5 Strategies to Help

Date: February 1, 2023 Posted by Linnea Mail Twitter Facebook

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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.

  • Consider joining a co-op or group purchasing organization to increase your buying power. When you buy together, you’re able to leverage
  • Evaluate your storage space to determine if you can increase the volume or quantity you purchase. Many distributors have begun to require larger minimum orders, so you may want to consider storage options. Is there a warehouse you can utilize? Can you team up with neighboring schools or school districts to lease a warehouse and split the costs?
  • If you have enough staff, buying from local producers can be great solution. This gives local farmers and businesses a boost by spending locally. Keep in mind it may mean more scratch cooking, but it allows you to rely less on processed items that may be hard to get.
  • Utilize your USDA commodities. Now it the time to start preparing to allocate your commodity entitlements for the 2023-24 school year. NutriStudents K-12 clients use our Commodities Forecasting Tool to ensure they order exact amounts of the appropriate commodities they need. The tool takes into consideration student headcount, the number of weeks in the school year and the number of times each NutriStudents K-12 menu is planned, and the tool automatically computes the precise quantities of various commodities to order.
  • Purchase ingredients that can be used for more than one meal or recipe. A great way to keep this in check is to consider a subscription to NutriStudents K-12. Our program features a streamlined market basket with less than 550 total ingredients to make 45 weeks of USDA compliant menus. Not a client? We'd love to demonstrate for you how the commodities calculator works. Schedule a demo today.

Category: School Food