Catering tech is supporting sustainability and buying local

9th November 2022

There’s no doubt this is a challenging time to be buying food. Aside from food price increases, public sector caterers are also being encouraged to buy local.

Buy British. Source regional. Seasonal produce. Open public sector supply chains to SMEs (Small and Medium sized Enterprises). The messages from the government to public sector caterers via proposed changes to the Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering (GBSF) and the Food Strategy published by Defra, are clear. 

The main driver is sustainability, with campaigns such as 20 Percent Less Meat and Buy British, Buy Local from the PSC Alliance (of which Civica is a member), as well as the Soil Association’s Food for Life programme which raises awareness of provenance and food quality.

There is often a perception that buying local costs more, while purchasing outside of large frameworks is complex and prohibitive. But with the right processes in place, caterers can maintain quality, support local and all without prohibitive costs.

Our cloud catering management software delivers an end-to-end solution to improve the efficiency of complex catering operations. It streamlines stock control, purchasing and menu engineering – and it is critical to help facilitate an efficient and cost-effective purchasing process.

Simplifying the procurement process

Our Purchase to Pay (P2P) module, for example, automates and simplifies the process for catering providers, saving up to 70% of the associated costs of a paper-based system. It makes procurement easier for both caterers and their suppliers, with more than 600 suppliers trading through Civica Catering Management (formerly Saffron).

You, as the caterer, can manage stock levels and recipe costings more easily, automatically raise and place purchase orders and maximise your purchasing power – all through one, simple to use platform. When you multiply those processes across numerous sites within a hospital trust, local authority, or other public sector organisation, it’s easy to see how automation of processes and smooth ordering/transactions can deliver benefits.

Levelling the playing field for SMEs

The difference with Civica Catering Management is that we provide both integration for larger suppliers and buying groups with their own systems using Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), while enabling the same efficiency and cost saving benefits for local suppliers and artisanal producers using an online portal.

Public sector caterers can exchange electronic orders seamlessly and process payments, whether working with a buying consortium or the local butcher. Crucially, there is no fee for smaller suppliers to trade electronically – removing any potential barrier to sourcing local food and ensuring quicker processing of payments too.

This approach is underpinning a successful catering operation at Lancashire County Council, where Saffron is helping improve sustainability and visibility across nearly 550 sites. Nigel Craine, Head of Schools and Residential Care Catering at Lancashire says “Our work with Civica and local food suppliers helps us to improve health and wellbeing of young people in Lancashire and we’re incredibly proud to be in that position. Our long-term relationship with Civica continues to grow and strengthen, and I believe this is key in the continued success of our catering operation.”

Supporting seasonal and sustainable menus

Another key feature is the ability to easily model menus, which is becoming increasingly more valuable because of rising food prices and sustainability pressures. It’s not just the cost of food, but the availability and supply of that food too. Some menu items are becoming harder to source, or more expensive because of their scarcity. The ability to model menus using Civica Catering Management is becoming increasingly more valuable as a result, offering a tool to help combat such challenges. For example, swapping a protein for cheaper, more readily available vegetables will help mitigate costs – and with Civica Catering Management, caterers can instantly see the impact that has on cost, nutrition, and carbon footprint.

Menu engineering makes it easier for catering teams to keep menus fresh (and optimised) on a regular basis and reduce the risk of plate waste too.

Making local supply chains a reality for the NHS

The new Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) from the NHS aims to encourage and support SMEs to supply fresh food into their local Trust. The goal is to simplify the process and overcome barriers so that Trusts can use local suppliers more easily.

Our technology is enabling these local supply chains to become reality. Civica’s Purchase to Pay (P2P) module, supports the DPS, integrating national and local suppliers through the same portal. In fact, we don’t present a barrier to any supplier trading with a customer - all they need is a PC to open the same efficiency and cost saving benefits for local suppliers and artisanal producers.

This can only be a good thing in terms of increasing price competitiveness, helping to build local supply networks and introducing an element of seasonality back into menu cycles using local produce – it will be quicker and easier for caterers to respond to seasonality and the subsequent availability of produce within their structured environment. There will be an element of carbon reduction too and it’s important given the current climate and challenges that we start to become more self-sufficient on our own food supply chain and less reliant on imports.

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