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Technology helps healthcare balance foodservice standardization with customization

Photograph: Shutterstock

Offering food in the healthcare industry is nothing new. Developing recipes, purchasing product and receiving and counting inventory is perhaps as old as the medical field itself. But what is new is the way technology can help to tailor foodservice operations to a particular healthcare setting, based on a specific population and its wants and needs.

“In the past, there has been standardization—everyone must use the same thing,” said Heather Whitehouse, director of product management for CBORD, a leading provider of nutrition, food production, privilege control and commerce services in healthcare and other markets. “But there is not a one-size-fits-all. There are nuances, especially nuances in the health system, with different levels of care.”

Enter technology systems such as NetMenu, CBORD’s web-based system built for enterprise management of large, multisite foodservice operations. NetMenu sets itself apart with its adherence to the rigorous standardization that is a natural part of healthcare, and at the same time allows for customization based on a particular area of the organization. The latter is particularly important because healthcare is composed of various kind of facilities, including large teaching hospitals, smaller regional access hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, children’s hospitals, rehab and other settings. And a single healthcare system can contain various facilities.

“Having the tools that are available to the health system and procurement team allows them to have visibility across the different hospitals … to put together a product mix that meets all their needs,” Whitehouse said.

Take celery: While it seems to be a simple ingredient, it actually has a level of complexity because different facilities may want it prepared in a particular way. For example, a teaching hospital may want celery sticks, while a rehab setting may want whole celery. NetMenu is built to manage such differences. Once the facilities have their shopping lists and are prepared to place their orders for the week, NetMenu will recommend that the teaching hospital buy chopped celery and the rehab unit purchase whole celery, for instance.

“No matter how many products are added or discontinued, NetMenu will follow those rules and make the best suggestion,” Whitehouse said.

Besides customization, NetMenu provides other benefits. Corporately configured algorithms suggest the best product for any ingredient based on availability, order guide, price, etc. This drives volume purchasing of the same products across the enterprise, maximizing rebates.

Reducing waste is another benefit. NetMenu makes sure people are not overpurchasing or ordering food too early so that it spoils.

Data analytics is also a key component of NetMenu. A healthcare system can look at data and drill down into what is being purchased per patient day (PPD) and the trends that are a part of that purchasing.

Bottom line? Procurement in healthcare is not what it used to be—it’s better. Healthcare systems now “have the flexibility they need while adhering to standards that keep the patient safe and the cost controlled,” Whitehouse says.

Customization is king in foodservice

Healthcare facilities aren’t the only places where this type of customization is crucial.

NetMenu’s level of customization appealed to Guckenheimer, a corporate foodservice provider that has more than 300 corporate cafes across the United States. Guckenheimer partnered with NetMenu in 2016.

“One of the main reasons we chose it was it enabled us to see the cost at each site level for each ingredient,” said Kirstan Terlet, SPHR-CA®, Guckenheimer’s senior vice president, food division, Center of Excellence at ISS.

She used the example of a tomato, which has price fluctuations across the country, depending on the location, season, transportation costs and other factors. “Each individual chef can see their price specifically and make business decisions based on that,” she said.

That gave power back to chefs at the unit level. Guckenheimer calls this “operational creativity.” The company, which requires that 80% of recipes are from the corporate database, also liked the system’s nutrition, allergen and recipe integrity; built-in cost controls; and data.

“Instead of standardizing it, even by region, the platform allows us to have master-owned recipes,” Terlet said. “That enabled Guckenheimer to be a chef-driven culture … while creating a consistent platform.” 

And that is the needle that back-of-the-house foodservice technology continually needs to thread: offering flexibility, but not at the expense of safety or quality.

To learn more about how technology can help facilitate back-of-house operations, click here.

This post is sponsored by CBORD

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