Collaboration and adaption prove invaluable qualities for universities during lockdown

Mike Haslin, CEO of The University Caterers Organisation (TUCO), looks at how, as a membership organisation, it is helping support university and college catering operations during the pandemic

Our approach during these unprecedented times is to offer our members business continuity where possible. We feel by doing this we can mitigate at least some of the uncertainty being experienced during this time.

Our new ‘normal’ is working from home to support our members in purchasing hospitality commodities. Members can be assured that we are still constantly reviewing our EU-compliant framework agreements to ensure that they offer value for money and help members cut costs.

TUCO’s procurement services continue to provide a consistent and efficient buying method for all our members. Purchasing catering commodities via our 19 EU-compliant catering frameworks and network of 300 quality-assured suppliers, allows members to maximise value through their combined £146million annual spend. As a result, we are proud to deliver savings to our members in excess of £16 million a year.

Our award-winning CIPS-qualified team are diligently working with suppliers and distributors to mitigate the risk of product shortages, as well as reacting quickly to the changing needs of our members. The team has in-depth category understanding so can quickly provide bespoke food and beverage market intelligence and procurement advice to members. We are continually collating supplier statements and updating the supplier pages on our website to ensure members always have access to the most up-to-date information.

Many university and college catering operations that have been forced to close have been making donations of food that are due to go out of date to charities, food banks, and businesses creating meals for key workers. Many campuses are undergoing deep cleans during this time and with kitchens closed, demand for maintenance services are high.

Nominated suppliers within our procurement framework ‘Kitchen Equipment Maintenance, Deep Cleaning & Ventilation Ducting Services’ are working hard across university campuses to ensure that not only kitchens, but restaurants, offices and accommodation are ready for when staff and students return and life returns to some semblance of normality.

Those that continue to stay open for students who are unable to return home have adapted to provide innovative solutions to ensure their staff and students stay safe. The sandwich and food-to-go market has altered significantly during the lockdown. Many of our suppliers have reduced the range of products on sale during this time as they make changes to production to ensure safety of staff and their customers. Suppliers under our ‘Sandwiches and Associated Products’ framework have risen to the challenge and diversified as a result, with many not only providing for students but also helping local authorities supply free school meals, and feed NHS patients.

Some institutions have remained fully operational as they support the government in tackling the pandemic.

From looking at suppliers, stock management and staffing to service delivery and waste management, now is a good time to see what could be improved areas that could be improved

We are aware that for some catering managers, lockdown gives them a rare opportunity to look again at their operations without the usual distractions of a busy campus. From looking at suppliers, stock management and staffing to service delivery and waste management, now is a good time to see what might be working well and areas that could be improved. TUCO Online is our revolutionary web-based eProcurement system that can help managers ensure the smooth delivery of services when campuses are once again bustling with students. Members can access TUCO Online free of charge if they are using TUCO framework suppliers.

TUCO Online provides members with a dynamic online purchasing portal delivering improved efficiency, complete visibility, reduced costs and compliance across an entire organisation with one simple login. We are running webinars to support members who are currently using the system and for those who are interested in learning more about the portal’s capabilities. Please visit our website for more information.

Case Study: TUCO Online

The University of Brighton has multiple campuses spread over three towns. It has 19 hospitality outlets involving 170 staff serving more than 21,000 students.

The University of Brighton’s hospitality team was one of the first universities to sign up to TUCO Online. The platform, developed by eProcurement experts Procure Wizard in partnership with TUCO, allowed the university’s procurement teams to manage and control its supplier trading relationships.

Mike Hornsby, systems manager at the University of Brighton, said: “The ability to place orders with multiple suppliers at the same time and compare pricing across multiple products is all now at our fingertips. It’s invaluable.

“The days of phone orders are gone and for the first time, staff have full visibility over department buying data.”

Procure Wizard estimates that 80% of the hospitality sector uses an eProcurement system. The figure is less than 5% in the education sector. This is despite the benefits it can bring: up to 50% savings in administration costs and about 10% through transparent product pricing.

We have also developed a brand new initiative in which we offer procurement surgeries for members to help them use this time to review their current strategy with a TUCO category manager. The aim is to support our members to make sure they continually access the best suppliers at the best price.

Our members are continuing to access the TUCO Academy’s free series of webinars and our e-learning library is still active, courtesy of our partnership with Upskill People. We want to ensure that our members can continue to develop professionally during this time, but we are also dedicated to providing members with wellbeing strategies to help them cope during these challenging times. We are also providing webinars that will look at post-pandemic scenarios to help universities plan for the future.

I am proud of the part we have played in the hospitality sector’s response to the crisis; it is our industry’s ability to adapt so quickly that has impressed me the most. Our colleagues, partners, members and suppliers have not only worked tirelessly to support the response effort to the pandemic, but they have gone above and beyond to support one another too.

The TUCO forum is filled with members offering support and advice to one another. I know from speaking to members personally that the forum has proved invaluable for many during the past few months; I am certain that the ability to adapt and a renewed appetite for collaboration will continue to serve the sector well into the future.

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