In a recent survey by FoodService Director, over 90% of respondents said that they are experiencing product procurement challenges. Some also shared how they’re dealing with those obstacles. Here are some ideas they’ve implemented.
1. Keep it vague
At Brockport Central School District in Brockport, N.Y., the nutrition team will intentionally leave menu items vague to allow for changes at the last minute, depending on what ends up being available. For example, the menu may simply say assorted cinnamon rolls and staff can serve either place-and-bake cinnamon rolls, mini cinnamon rolls, etc.
The team at Canyon Creek School in Billings, Mont., takes a similar approach for its themed meal days. “This month is Taco Tuesdays. We do not say what it will be until that Tuesday, that way it gives us a leeway to change at last moment,” says Food Service Director Sharon Lose.
2. Use unused spaces for extra storage
Many operators are stocking up when certain items are available and have gotten creative with their storage space.
The nutrition team at Heard County Schools in Franklin, Ga., uses old classrooms as additional storage space to hold paper items, while Stein Assisted Living in Somerset, N.J., has stored shelf-stable items in old offices.
3. Keep team members in the loop
At New Perspective Twin Ports in Superior, Wisc., Culinary Services Director Lowell Fermenich says planning ahead has been helpful in getting through this challenging time. Operators should also keep staff up to date with changes before meal service and ask them to share recommendations or any concerns.
“Having input from your frontline teams makes a difference,” he says.
4. Add in add-ons
At Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, the dining team has been offering menu items that have protein add-ons, such as salads. The team makes the items one charge fits all so they can easily swap in whatever add-ons are available at a given time.
5. Go local
Pre-pandemic, the dining team at Stein Assisted Living mostly used larger suppliers in the area. Director of Dining Services Brad Fassett says that they have now incorporated smaller, local distributers into their rotation and have found that they sometimes have items unavailable from larger ones. Fassett also says that working with local companies has saved the team time since they don’t have to visit the nearby restaurant depot as often.
“The additional options are nice to have since they also cut down on trips to the local restaurant depot, which saves hours every time we would need to go,” he says.
6. Use local vendors’ warehouses
Along with bulk purchasing items, the nutrition team at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis has worked with local vendors to use their warehouses to store large quantities of product.
“[It allows] us to pull from that stock as the products fluctuate from being available and not available,” says Executive Chef Dugan Wetzel.
7. Branch out
At Gonzales Independent School District in Gonzales, Texas, Food Service Director Edward Wayner says he has used the supply chain shortages as an opportunity to check out new vendors and products, and recommends that other schools do the same. Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has also increased the meal reimbursement rate, he advises schools to explore higher-quality products that may have been out of reach in the past due to cost.
“Try some pricier items, they actually may be reasonable since the regular items have significantly increased in cost,” Wayner says.