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Michelle Parnham, Head of Sales, Pelican Procurement Services, has over 20 years of expertise in food service and public procurement, supporting organisations with in-house catering operations to overcome their procurement and supply chain challenges.

Michelle’s in-depth knowledge of the industry and experience working with complex and multi-site operators across all sectors allows her to share the best practices and proven solutions to help organisations achieve their goals successfully. In this article, she shares six key tips to help independent school catering teams to enhance their operations. 

Supplier and price management support

Thanks to current market conditions, staffing issues, cost-of-living squeeze, and food inflation, school catering operators tell us that they simply don’t have the time to monitor categories, suppliers, and pricing adequately. 

To work around this, working in partnership with an independent procurement partner who has vast industry knowledge would not only keep the catering team ahead of the game but also add real value to their catering operations and dining experience.  

This partnership brings lots of value to catering teams from support with negotiating competitive prices across food and non-food categories and managing ongoing supplier relationships. On top of that, they obtain valuable market updates and forecasts of impending price rises or supply constraints to help them plan menu changes proactively rather than reactively.

Consolidate your purchasing spend

To ensure you are receiving the best value, the first thing caterers should do is examine what they are buying, who they are buying it from, and how the ordering and delivery process occurs. Perhaps surprisingly, some are unsure about these, partly because they vary by department, budget holder or site.

Not surprisingly, in such circumstances, one of the first money-saving steps that can be taken is to consolidate purchases so that better deals can be negotiated.

This might include a formal tender process to get the right balance of service, quality and price. This process can also provide good market comparisons as it organises purchasing from enough suppliers to know the typical price for most of the products you want to buy. This makes overpaying less likely because it is can police over-pricing with better information.

Professional bespoke tender

Schools that seek the most competitive prices in the market should put their food purchases out for tendering. Tendering professionals will create a totally transparent and auditable process that will achieve the best market prices across all purchase categories based on your specific needs.

The tender process also enables the organisation to include price hold periods within the supplier’s contract. This will allow you to fix prices for a suitable time period, generating price stability.

A three-month fixed price period is recommended for fresh produce, as this allows you to maintain price stability whilst also enabling you to take advantage of seasonal price variations (e.g. buying English salad in the summer when prices are low, and supply is high). Other food categories should be price-fixed for six months.

At the end of these price hold periods, the in-house procurement team or procurement partner should measure any price movements proposed by suppliers to ensure that they are fully justified, fair and in line with the marketplace. They should also limit price increases to an absolute minimum, and challenge proposed increases versus market movements.

Buy agreed products only

Caterers need to ensure that all staff are aware of which products they can order – i.e. buy products from the agreed contract list (using a closed list). Many schools are charged more money because they are buying products outside of the agreed list. In many cases, this can be the same product but a different case size.

An automated system that checks products bought against the contract list is a valuable tool. Using an easy-to-use online ordering system that can restrict the product list for staff who are placing orders is a great solution to minimise overspending on off-contract products.

Pay the correct price at all times

Many school catering teams do not have the time, resources, or systems in place to check each invoice product line against the agreed contract list. It is surprisingly common for an invoice price to be higher than the agreed one, mistakes which often go unnoticed unless there is a proper checking system in place.

Computerised systems that can automatically check each invoice against the agreed price to identify any inconsistencies would save businesses around 3% to 5% of the total spend on food and drink, not to mention the time and resources if this task is to be done manually.

Centralise your operation with technology

Online systems are critical and a must-have in modern catering operations for creating efficiencies.

While there can sometimes be a reluctance to change traditional ways of working, the benefits of using a centralised online approach to managing catering procurement are well documented. For example, placing orders over the phone rather than online not only uses valuable time but also does not provide an audit trail to confirm what quantities or products have actually been ordered (and at what price).  Online tools provide this transparency and help you to enhance back-office processes. 

Like the Pelican Pi eProcurement system, there are systems on the market that have a number of specialised modules that work together in a single platform to provide live data, accurate product costing, stock usage, wastage and portion control and identify any areas where there is a variance reported.

There are typically two options: operators can pay for a stand-alone system(s), or they can work with a procurement partner, which provides an associated system as part of the overall offering. 


There are many purchasing and procurement companies in the market and as with any successful partnership, you will have to do your research to find the best fit for your needs.

It is crucial that a procurement partner is totally transparent and provides recommendations based on sound professional purchasing principles and practices, which are fully auditable.  As a result of providing impartial advice of this nature, you are best-placed to make informed decisions.

We are here to help.

To learn more about how Pelican Procurement Services can help your school achieve its goals and improve efficiencies, email our friendly team at

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