Revolutionising procurement

Mike Haslin, chief executive officer at the University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) discusses how to achieve market-leading value for money by maximising quality and driving down costs

TUCO’s collaborative buying experience dates to the 1980s when a group of like-minded individuals from UK universities began benchmarking food prices and were concerned about the variance. The motivation was to achieve greater levels of value for money and equality. Through leveraging the collective spend on a group of universities, the overall cost was reduced.

As catering procurement experts, TUCO is a wholly transparent, not-for-profit organisation. Our award-winning full-time CIPS qualified team are dedicated to cutting costs, offering a consistent and efficient buying process. Although we have a strong heritage in the higher and further education sector, working with more than 120 universities and 200 colleges across the UK, we have expanded and now work with more than 40 local authorities and 20 NHS Trusts as well.

In the past 12 months, we have enhanced our framework agreements to maximise our members’ combined spend. This year, we were delighted to launch two brand-new frameworks. The first is supply and distribution of specialist vegan and vegetarian food products. The second is a one-stop shop framework for grocery provisions, frozen and chilled foods. 

The award-winning TUCO procurement team wanted to create a one-stop shop for its members’ most essential needs. In total, 11 lots are available within the two frameworks.

As recognised in our Global Food and Beverage Trends Report 2018, the most significant trend during 2017/2018, and perhaps food as a whole, is the move towards plant-based eating. 

The new framework specialising in vegan and vegetarian food products supports caterers, enabling them to respond to the increasing demand for a diverse range of meat-free and plant-based products. 

Our members say…

Brücks at the University of Edinburgh has been a big hit with customers. Whereas the previous incarnation with its ‘old panini Costa-type model’ had an average spend of £2.90 that has now risen to £3.50 and overall income has risen by 56%.

“It’s showing we are developing our offer to meet the needs of this target market. TUCO has done a lot of work on food trends for 18–25-year-olds. Powerful information provided by TUCO’s Food Trends Report has been used to influence how we develop the offer at Brücks.” 

Ian Macaulay, assistant director (catering) at University of Edinburgh

“By using TUCO frameworks for best price ingredients, listening to our customers and watching the high street, we are able to retain students on campus even in our city centre locations.” 

Ivan Hopkins, head of catering and hospitality at Nottingham Trent University

“It’s a significant investment by the university. We have taken the opportunity to reposition much closer to what students find in the high street, but we are still priced below the high street and well below regional HE peers.” 

Jonathan Hamblett, catering operations director at University of Nottingham

As part of our vision to entrench sustainability within all functions of TUCO, we have worked hard to embed sustainable procurement within all our contracts and framework agreements. 

Sustainable procurement means institutions can meet their requirements for goods, services, works and utilities while achieving value for money. Not only does this generate benefits to their organisation, but also to society, the economy and the environment.

With 270 suppliers to choose from, TUCO strongly believes in building close relationships with our supply chain to drive efficiencies and service levels. 

We have removed many of the traditional barriers to entry for small providers, in terms of financial size and geographic coverage to encourage participation. This has resulted in an increase in budget spend and savings for our members. 

More than 80% of TUCO suppliers are classified as micro, small or medium enterprises, and offer great value for money and innovation. Quality assurance is as important as value for money. All our food and drinks suppliers will have been through a rigorous approval process and they are at least third-party accredited.

With as much as 80% of the hospitality sector, but only 5% of the education sector using an eProcurement system, the sector is fast catching up to the benefits of online procurement systems. Advantages both in time and money are well documented. It’s estimated benefits of up to 50% can be made in administration savings alone and a further 10% through transparent product pricing.

Already purchasing £143m of goods and services for our members through fully compliant framework agreements, we deliver in excess of £8m in savings per annum through our digital services. 

Our revolutionary web-based procurement system, TUCO Online, provides a solution for procurement to manage and control supplier trading relationships. This dynamic online purchasing portal allows caterers to take control of their operation, with key features including live pricing, goods receipting, invoice reconciliation, purchase-to-pay, variance reporting, nutritional data and gross profit analysis. It also provides recipe costings, menu engineering, flash reporting, stock management, waste management and an interactive dashboard.

Furthermore, our procurement services offer a further competitions service. This beneficial service provides tailored buying support to further drive down prices. Members can create a bespoke basket of goods relevant to their individual needs to secure added value for their procurement frameworks. 

Our procurement team use their specialist knowledge to provide catering insight, mini competitions, data and research to ensure members are receiving the best prices. It empowers caterers to secure added value for their procurement frameworks.

To support our procurement development, our team of category managers produce TUCO Intelligence reports. These quarterly reports gather market analysis and up-to-date food and beverage trends. Ultimately, the aim is to arm buyers with the latest intelligence on trends affecting university catering operations.

To find out more about TUCO and its procurement services, please visit: or contact Mike Haslin, CEO by calling: 0161 713 3421 or emailing: 

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