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The slow and safe road to recovery

Mike Haslin, CEO of The University Caterers Organisation (TUCO), looks at how, as a membership organisation, it is working with its members to help them recover from the impact of Covid-19

The hospitality sector was severely affected by Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns. Members have had to adapt at speed to the constantly changing government guidelines, and many have had to learn to operate differently, all whilst often working under huge financial pressures.

As universities return and open up again, we continue to support our members as they navigate the ‘new normal’. Our members are facing many new challenges including: managing social distancing across multiple food and retail environments, putting in place increased hygiene measures, streamlining menus, and meeting the rise in demand for food-to-go.

By being adaptable and willing to innovate and explore new retail opportunities, I believe that our members will be able to reduce the financial impact of the pandemic. Many of our members have already made the switch to provide more take-away services, whilst others have introduced click-and-collect services to support social distancing requirements during busier periods.

TUCO’s not-for-profit procurement services continue to provide a consistent and efficient buying method for our members. As a not-for-profit organisation, we are owned by our members which means we only ever act in their best interests. 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 £140million annual spend. As a result, we are proud to deliver savings to our members in excess of £12million a year.

Our award-winning CIPS-qualified team have been working tirelessly to meet the changing needs of our members during this time. The team has in-depth category understanding so can quickly provide bespoke food and beverage market intelligence and procurement advice to members. We constantly review our framework agreements to ensure they meet any new health and safety requirements as a result of Covid-19, whilst ensuring they continue to offer value for money and help our members cut costs.

We know that university catering is facing huge challenges with teams already stretched to capacity without the extra resources needed to constantly manage suppliers and negotiate better prices. Trying to get the best value out of procurement activity is now arguably more important than ever.

Members who are already using one of TUCO’s food and beverage frameworks can run a second competitive process. This tailored service is TUCO’s ‘Further Competition Service’: in effect, we become an extension of a member’s procurement team, helping them to squeeze every last drop of value from their processes and frameworks and maximising additional cost savings.

Prior to the pandemic, our framework, ‘Sandwiches and Associated Products’, had already been identified as a growth area. Food-to-go was seeing increased demand throughout the day and was no longer viewed by customers as just a lunch time option. During the pandemic, this shift has happened more rapidly, resulting in caterers and suppliers alike having to work hard to meet demand. However, we must never be complacent and forget that customers are still requesting that packaging is sustainable; that there is transparency when it comes to supply chains; local/seasonal produce is used where possible; availability and variety of free-from options, and clarity on packaging.

Caterers have a huge responsibility to their customers to ensure they can eat and drink safely. Caterers must be aware that any changes made to their service when adapting for Covid-19 must be allergen-compliant. It is critical that caterers fully support the needs of those with allergies. As well as supporting the Anaphylaxis Campaign, TUCO has developed an independent and objective code of practice on the management of food allergen awareness. The code sets out standards for compliance such as the need for training and action in the following areas: food allergen policies, supply traceability, food allergy management process – from delivery to service, labelling, communication, training, auditing and reporting, and emergency procedures.

In addition to this, our TUCO training academy delivers courses on allergen awareness which enable caterers to better understand procedures relating to communication of ingredient information and the characteristics of food allergies.

The #TUCOfamily, as it is fondly known, have come together more than ever during these unprecedented times through the TUCO Forum that can be accessed via www.tuco.ac.uk. The Forum acts as an extension of a member’s ‘office’ support network. Members share ideas, ask for advice from their peers and discuss industry issues and trends. Discussions are separated into different sections such as ‘Procurement’ and ‘Sustainability’ so it is easy to find a topic that is relevant.

It is difficult to plan ahead in these challenging times, but by supporting one another I am positive that we can help re-build confidence in the sector and begin to recover from the impact of Covid-19, one small step at a time.


Case Study

Adapting to the ‘new normal’ – The University of Bath

The catering team at the university has worked tirelessly to navigate the challenges of the changing government guidelines. Flexible plans have been introduced so activity can be increased or reduced when necessary. The team wanted to ensure they could continue to deliver a quality experience whilst still offering a wide and varied selection of food and drink that caterers for all dietary needs.

Kevin McCormick, head of commercial operations (accommodation and hospitality services), said: “The safety of our students and staff has and will continue to be the top priority.”

To maintain social distancing and protect students, the university provides a takeaway-only service in all its open outlets. It also introduced two additional pop-up takeaway venues and launched a click-and-collect service for its popular Lime Tree pizza menu. To reduce traffic and waiting times in campus supermarkets, the bakery options were moved to a stand-alone location where a takeaway service with coffee was made available.

One-way queuing systems were put in place across campus with clear signage. Handwashing stations were also provided.

Ethical and responsible sourcing plays a significant role in the university’s food service offering. Liz Eyles, head of business development at The University of Bath, said: “When we use a TUCO framework, we can be confident in the fact that a whole range of minimum criteria have already been achieved by the suppliers.

“The beauty of using a framework is that we are then free to explore criteria that are particularly important to us.”

www.tuco.ac.uk

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