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The attitude shift

Mike Haslin at TUCO, explains how healthy eating and sustainability are changing procurement in HE

Posted by Hannah Oakman | December 13, 2016 | Catering & hospitality

Over the past few years the innovation within university catering has been vast, leaving the outdated perceptions of bulk canteen meals a thing of the past. The variety and creativity of the food outlets across universities is now rivalling that of the high street, in line with the changing student expectations. The demand for more sustainable and healthy diets along with the rise in cost of attending university, means that students also want value for money. In a sector already operating on wafer-thin margins, this complicates matters and it has become a juggling act of providing high-quality food with top-grade service levels and constrained budgets. 

So how do catering professionals cope with the change in attitudes and requirements to provide healthier, more sustainable meal choices and keep within tight budgets? 

This is where specialist procurement frameworks come in, particularly those from not-for-profit backgrounds, such as TUCO. From assessing the supply chain and working with local producers and suppliers, ensuring that procurement procedures provide the best value for money can have a significant impact.

Supply chain – provide the right assurance

To meet the demand from today’s students for transparency and traceability across the food chain, it’s important to make it as easy as possible for them to identify dishes and products that support causes that they care about. Flagging ingredients accredited by a food assurance scheme sends out a clear message about a catering outlet’s sourcing practices and brand ethos. Ingredients accredited by organisations including Red Tractor, the Soil Association or Fairtrade all carry assurances about content and/or sustainability and are a good place to start. Keeping on top of this and clearly marking menus sends out the message that sustainability is taken seriously. 

Students have more choice than ever before and it’s essential that campus catering outlets keep them on site and avoid losing custom to high-street establishments

Go local and support small producers

Many caterers may think that sourcing locally produced food is too difficult a task when mass catering. 

However, offering a few carefully selected local dishes or ingredients can make a huge difference when marketing to consumers and demonstrating sustainability credentials. A good procurement framework should offer options to source from SMEs and local suppliers too, taking away the administration headache. 

Sourcing locally also allows for seasonal ingredient variations, cutting down on the amount of food that is imported. 

Take TUCO’s frameworks for example, where 75% of our suppliers are SMEs (many on a regional basis), and we have built-in flexibility to allow our members to work with local producers, whether that is for a short-term agreement or on a more permanent scale. And now, through our frameworks, universities are able to purchase Fairtrade milk in the first procurement agreement of its kind.

Consumer trends are constantly evolving but the move towards a healthier, more sustainable diet is certainly one that is here to stay

Get the best value from a procurement framework

Maintaining individual agreements with suppliers and negotiating the best price is a time-consuming and often impossible task for universities to do on their own. 

This is why many establishments across the UK make use of a procurement framework and are able to take advantage of the deals negotiated by a larger organisation. As the largest entity in the university catering industry, TUCO can provide these offers and assurances, particularly with our new purchase-to-pay platform, TUCO Online. But with any agreement, catering professionals should assess which arrangement suits their needs and ensure that they are getting the best deal for them. 

If done well, this type of agreement can save organisations time, money and administration headaches, while also positively impacting the bottom line. 

However, decision-makers need to take the time to understand the business benefits and which option is best for them. 

View for the future

Consumer trends are constantly evolving but the move towards a healthier, more sustainable diet is certainly one that is here to stay. It isn’t a fad, but a concerted effort that is backed by government bodies and large-scale campaigns. As the next generation moves into HE, there is likely to be a permanent shift in mentality that means university catering professionals need to provide transparency in terms of their supply chain as well as demonstrating sustainability credentials. 

Students have more choice than ever before and it’s essential that campus catering outlets keep them on site and avoid losing custom to high-street establishments. 

For more information on TUCO and its specialist public sector procurement frameworks, please visit: www.tuco.ac.uk

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