Minnesota district receives more food supplies for significantly less effort
A1,100-student school district in Minnesota had been purchasing food supplies through a buying group of five other school systems—but it wasn’t efficient. “We would have to meet quite often” says Director of Food Service Sandie Rentz of Wadena-Deer Creek Public Schools. “We wrote our own bids and market basket. Then we would go out for bidding and tabulate the results ourselves.”
Sourcewell, a government agency that provides cooperative-contract purchasing solutions nationally, now supplies all the district’s food needs through a cooperative purchasing agreement, which Rentz renews every two years.
The partnership, now in its fourth year, puts Sourcewell, formerly NJPA, in charge of the procurement process, from ensuring bidding documentation quality to the bidding itself. “It’s a big deal for us to have a good bid out there” says Rentz. “This kind of contract is a no-brainer for any small district.”
Top 10 vendors
1. CDW—Multibrand technology provider
2. Staples—Office supply retailer
3. Yancey Bus—Blue Bird Bus sales, parts and service provider
4. US Foods—Food service distributor
5. Peach State—Consulting, engineering and material- handling integration firm
6. Grainger—Industrial-grade supplies and safety products source*
7. Multi-Unit Group—Food service distribution network*
8. Blue Bird Bus—Type A, C and D school bus manufacturer
9. Sharp—Electronics designer and manufacturer
10. Hoglund Bus and Truck—Full-service school bus and medium-duty truck dealer*
*used by Wadena-Deer Creek Public Schools
Choosing the most cost-effective options
When the district first started out with Sourcewell, Rentz had a choice between two vendors and selected Upper Lakes Foods. “Their market-basket bid was much lower, and they impressed us with their commitment to schools” Rentz says.
Sourcewell also gives Rentz the chance to meet periodically with Upper Lakes Foods to see all the vendor’s new products.
For purchasing smallwares and other equipment, Rentz puts in a request for Sourcewell’s bid price along with ones from three other companies. “Sourcewell’s bid is always the cheapest” Rentz says.
Under this contract, the district has purchased pans, scales, thermometers, serving items and can openers.
“We are a very specialized market” says Rentz. “All our wares have to be NSF-approved.” And with Sourcewell, they are, she says.
Sourcewell also included services from NutriStudents in the contract (see sidebar). NutriStudents makes sure that the district’s nutritionals are compliant with USDA regulations.
Multi-Unit Group offers NutriStudents K-12
Sourcewell’s Multi-Unit Group contract features an exclusive partnership with NutriStudents. The NutriStudents K-12 platform helps schools efficiently manage USDA-compliant programs.
Through Sourcewell, schools can license this system and contract with a local food distribution company without going out to bid. The NutriStudents value-added service includes:
Over 100 weeks of menus
Food production reports
Product order guides
More time, more funds
Since implementing the co-op purchasing plan with Sourcewell, the district’s available funds have increased by 7 percent.
This has allowed Rentz to redirect these savings toward updating the dining services at an elementary school that the district is remodeling.
“Since we now have enough money in our food service balance, our payments no longer have to come from the district’s general fund” says Rentz.
Another benefit: Rentz has extra time to spend on other job responsibilities, such as interacting with staff and researching different menu ideas.
“Besides treats, there are different chicken products that are a little more expensive because they’re low-fat and made from whole grains, but now we can afford to give those a try” she says.
Sourcewell, AASA join forces
In 2012, Sourcewell partnered with the School Superintendents Association (AASA) to provide their members with Helping Kids, a mini-grant program to meet the immediate needs of students.
Every year, Sourcewell and ASSA present four $2,000 awards to public school districts. In 2018, grants were given to 28 hurricane-affected school districts in Texas and Florida.
For more information, visit aasa.org/minigrant
Another contract benefit, Rentz says, is that Sourcewell takes the time to ensure that students at Wadena-Deer Creek Public Schools receive the food they need.
“I like the fact that Sourcewell does their research on companies that know school food because we are a very specialized customer” says Rentz. “We’re just fortunate that Sourcewell understands this and has found the companies that we need.”
For more information, visit sourcewell-mn.gov