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In this article, Ian Findlay, Bursar of Bradford Grammar School, talks about his challenges in supporting the catering team to deliver a quality service while ensuring best value is achieved from the market in order to meet the school’s annual catering budget. He discusses how working with food procurement experts helped him save £33,000 and made the finance and catering teams’ work-life so much easier.


Bradford Grammar School is an outstanding UK independent grammar school, which believes in providing every opportunity for its Junior and Senior pupils.   It embraces academic, sporting and creative excellence within an aspirational, caring environment, building both on its heritage while also looking to the future.

With over 1,000 pupils, the school provides an in-house catering service, which delivers between 900 and 1,000 meals every day.  Its focus is serving meals, snacks and drinks that offer children – and staff – choice, nutrition and quality.   Today’s parents, and students themselves, are more aware of the importance of nutritionally balanced, quality foods and expectations on standards are high.

We talked to Ian Findlay, Bursar of Bradford Grammar School to understand the challenges he faces with supporting the catering team to deliver a quality service, while ensuring best value is achieved from the market in order to meet the school’s annual catering budget.

“I originally joined Bradford Grammar school 15 years ago as the finance manager, and became the Bursar in 2009.

Managing catering operation

Of course, catering forms just one part of the overall big picture in the role that I have as Bursar, however the buck is with me to meet the catering budget, achieve best value from the market without compromising quality, while also complying with the relevant nutritional legislation.

There are challenges in doing this however as I’m sure many other bursars would agree: we need to balance quality with cost, and to do this would require a detailed knowledge of the food and drinks market, pricing and managing suppliers.

I don’t want my catering team having to spend their time managing suppliers and negotiating prices line by line however, as I would rather they concentrate on what they are there for, which is producing fantastic food.

Instead, I work in partnership with Pelican Procurement Services. They’ve been supporting the school in a number of ways for over a decade now, however since I took over as Bursar, we’ve expanded the relationship further so they actively support us with our complete catering procurement needs.

This means they are constantly monitoring our supplier’s prices and invoices, overseeing product switching or sourcing alternatives when needed, as well as providing quarterly reports that are presented back to our board to demonstrate the way in which our catering function is intelligently handling the procurement.

On top of this, they make sure our suppliers are meeting the agreed service levels, set out by Pelican when re-tendering took place, while also monitoring our product compliance.  So, for example, if they see that products are being purchased by the catering team outside of the contracted products, they renegotiate the prices and ensure they are added to our contract list.

They are our eyes and ears.  They constantly monitor the market and understand the complexities relating to the fast paced world of food commodities.   They have the specialism that we simply tap in to. For me, it’s a valuable extension to our team.

Managing price and quality

A good example of what they are able to do is around price management.  After the first three months of our new contract coming into place with a fruit and vegetable supplier, they put forward a large price increase.  Pelican rejected the increase as they could see they were not in line with the wider market place.   The contract was reviewed and awarded to an alternative supplier, which we are very happy with.  They managed this from start to finish – something that would have taken considerable time if we were to try this in-house.

Ultimately, the big issue for me is that I want to control costs, but maintain quality and Pelican has helped us to do just that.  We have gone to tender for our food business twice, now coming up to a third time in the past five years, and by doing this it has saved us an impressive £33,000, which can be reinvested back into the school’s operations. 

My impression of the food business is that it is fast moving: prices are continually changing, pack sizes change, and availability of products varies too. I simply don’t have the time to go through every line item to validate each and every transaction and neither does my team.  We’re here to educate children and feed them. Pelican manages this for us.

In fact, Sarah and Michelle from Pelican have become a real extension to our team.  They are the experts and they really understand what we want to achieve here at Bradford Grammar.  They have the advantage of having sight of the full market – working with clients in education and other sectors – and they keep a very tight handle on what is happening for us.

Also, day to day, our executive chef is particularly impressed with the contact they have with Pelican. If ever there is a supply or product issue, Pelican sorts it.  I recruited the executive chef four years ago, and at first he was very cynical about the use of an external procurement company.  However, he has completely turned around in his thinking and really appreciates the value now. 

Support for finance and catering team

Also, working with an external partner has made a big difference for our finance team.  Whereas we used to be inundated with supplier invoices, which needed checking against agreed price lists.  To say it was cumbersome was an understatement.

Now, we receive one statement each month Pelican – and we are comfortable in the knowledge that this has been checked against agreed contracts.  The cost savings and efficiencies from this alone should not be underestimated.   Working this was is far easier for the finance team.

It’s satisfying to know that the catering department is operating in the most efficient way, enabling our chefs to concentrate on menu creation and delivery, and not having to worry about sourcing, pricing and back-end administration. 

For me personally, I have comfort from the fact that we’re buying the right products at the right price. Quality isn’t compromised and we are ultimately receiving the best value.  If I am approached by a parent, I can be fully confident in providing assurances that the food we are serving to our pupils, every day, is of a quality that we can be very proud of.  It’s the peace of mind that I know many Bursars are looking for!”

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