Advice in abundance for local food procurers in webinar

Local food procurement goals were the focus in a webinar hosted by Farm to Institution New England, with foodservice professionals and clients offering valuable insight

Farm to institution food acquisition provided the overarching theme for the two main sections of the webinar, held on 31 January, 1-2 pm EST.

John Turenne FCSI, president of Sustainable Food Systems LLC, and Peter Allison, network director of Farm to Institution New England (FINE), began the session by summarising how foodservice consultants can use FINE’s Food Service Toolkit. Its aim is to simplify what Turenne called the “idiosyncrasies” of the request for proposal (RFP) process.

This was followed by a case study of the University of Vermont’s successful development of a new catering system based on local food procurement, aided by a foodservice consultant.

Dennis DePaul, University of Vermont associate dean for Student Affairs (the client); Melissa Zelazny, Sodexo’s resident district manager at the University of Vermont (the caterer); and Claudia Scotty, executive principal of Envision Strategies (the consultant), took turns to discuss their experiences of fulfilling a complex proposal with university values at the heart.

Foodservice insights

In a jam-packed hour, participants offered their individual perspectives on the challenges and opportunities associated with complex farm to institution RFPs. The discussion yielded some interesting insights.

Allison said “breaking down mysteries” in the foodservice management process underpins his company’s toolkit. As Turenne explained, the toolkit aims to unravel these mysteries at every stage of the RFP process. With sections exploring the ins and outs of institutional foodservice, contract processes and RFP development, Turenne demonstrated how the toolkit acts as an encyclopedia for foodservice firms going through RFP processes.

DePaul provided a client’s take on RFP development. Turenne said the University of Vermont offered an outstanding example of a company that had “overcome and overhauled traditional challenges in the outsourcing process”. For DePaul, this meant creating an RFP which “truly reflected our campus’s values and how we wanted to operate in the food system”, based on community obligations and liaising with local farms rather than costs alone.

Zelazny offered a foodservice company perspective on the uncommon RFP. Alongside the usual challenges, like synthesising available data to fulfill a brief, this meant “meeting and exceeding goals to help the local community”, balancing financial restrictions against the values laid out by the University of Vermont.

As a consultant, Scotty had an overview of the RFP process. She identified three important challenges that emerged – balancing the needs of the university, communicating these needs to foodservice firms trying to work out how best to fulfill them, and ensuring that all companies in the running had sufficient information to complete the RFP process to the best of their ability.

The webinar provided invaluable information on the highly specific topic of farm to institution-focused foodservice RFPs, containing something for everyone – clients, consultants and companies. To view FINE’s foodservice toolkit, visit:

Thomas Lawrence

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