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Ipswich School is the leading independent school in Suffolk for pupils aged 3 to 18. Steeped in history, it is recorded as far back as 1399 and was originally located across several sites throughout the county town until it moved to its Henley Road site. Here Prince Albert laid the foundation stone in 1851, and since then the school has successfully expanded with many additions including new classrooms, library, a chapel, laboratories, an indoor swimming pool, concert venue, a design and technology department, a purpose-built music school and extensive sports facilities. 

As well as the Preparatory School, there is a Senior School, Sixth Form, in addition to a day nursery and pre-prep school. A boarding provision is also available.

We spoke with Paul Wranek BSc Hons, ACA, Bursar and Clerk to the Governors to learn how the school manages its extensive food and beverage procurement requirements to maintain a quality catering service for its students, staff and visitors, while overcoming the ongoing challenge of supply issues and increasing costs:

“To give you an indication of our operations, every day, over 1,000 lunches are prepared and served to students and staff,” explains Paul. “We also offer a breakfast service, and with a small number of boarders, we also provide around 60 evening and weekend meals. In addition, our team fully caters for special events, governors meetings and similar, so we have an extensive food and beverage requirement both in and outside of term times, which is overseen by two catering managers and a team of six chefs.”

A procurement predicament

Like all schools, the challenge of managing food and beverage supplier relationships, to achieve the right combination of product choice and quality, delivery and price is something most bursars and catering managers work hard to balance.

For the team at Ipswich School this is no different, and in 2012 they made a decision to seek assistance from a procurement specialist to help with cost management.  Having attended the ISBA Conference with his catering manager, they were introduced to the team at Pelican Procurement.

Explains Paul:  “We were looking for support with our catering, however I wanted to retain control of our operation. Many companies seemed to offer procurement support, yet their driver was to take over the entire function. This wasn’t what we needed – for us it was more about managing the price fluctuations we had seen (and therefore help with budgeting), to negotiate with suppliers and to provide quality and delivery to ensure our pupils and staff are provided with the best food possible every day. When I started talking to Pelican, it was clear this was their remit and I felt that we could work well together. The personalities involved in the business were not only professional but also easy to get on with, and it was clear they understood our sector, inside and out.”

Following the initial meeting at the ISBA Conference, Paul and his team spoke with other catering managers across the Eastern region, via a local bursars group, and some were already working with Pelican. The feedback was positive, but not just from a cost management perspective, as Paul continues:

“What originally started as a conversation on costs expanded and instead many of our connections were telling us about the help they were receiving in managing the overall supplier relationships, including tender processes, cost and invoice management, plus in receiving market insights and intelligence to help better plan and budget.

“What was also appealing was the fact that Pelican has a technology platform that gives greater visibility of the entire catering operation, from stock control, to being able to calculate cost per serve and all with the ability to create very detailed management reports.  We signed-up with Pelican and I have to say it’s been a positive relationship ever since.”

Direct and indirect financial savings

Since the partnership began, the team at Ipswich School has made a series of changes to the way the catering function is managed, with Pelican’s support, which has created financial savings the team were looking for at the outset, but time and operational efficiencies too, as Paul confirms:

“In the beginning, we were very much cost focused, however I then became aware of the full service that went behind it. Within six months, we had completed our first supplier tender process, set-up a centralised ordering system, integrated into an invoicing system, with an agreed product list and contracted costs. Not only were we saving money but saving our organisation a huge amount of operational time, which I hadn’t originally anticipated.”  

“We went from having to process a plethora of supplier invoices to instead having one single invoice from Pelican.  You cannot underestimate the benefit of this alone; we have saved at least 10 hours a week, which is not insignificant at all.  It’s freed-up our accounts administrators to focus their time elsewhere, which is fantastic.”

From a supplier perspective, Pelican respects the school’s wishes to support local suppliers as Paul adds, “We have a good network of local suppliers that we use – they are important to us and to our stakeholders. Retaining these has been another great thing that Pelican has been adaptable on; they don’t try to railroad you to a supplier that they want. For example, we have a local butcher that we have worked with for many years – the quality of their meat is of a high standard, organic and Pelican is able to continue supporting these relationships.”

Day to day, the catering team work with the Pelican’s Pi system to assess, manage and order stock. Chefs can order from the pre-agreed product lists, have visibility on which lines are proving more popular, have access to allergen data to adhere to rules, which all adds up to them being able to make swift and informed decisions. In 2015, Pelican also supported the school when it needed to upgrade its kitchen equipment.

Managing supply, inflation and market conditions

In recent years, any organisation with a catering function has not been immune to the changing market conditions, not just locally but on a global level, which has seen commodities, food and beverage costs rise, as well as challenges with supply.  As a bursar, Paul explains how Pelican has supported Ipswich School in navigating these challenges:

“Pelican is constantly monitoring the market – and not just in the here and now, but looking ahead.  Their market insight reports are extremely helpful from a planning point of view. They are also constantly talking to the market and pre-empt and manage cost fluctuations.  Where products become unavailable or price increases occur, they are helping us to source equivalent products, but also at best value.  There is a huge amount of work that happens behind the scenes on our behalf, which is extremely useful.”  

Like most schools, Ipswich School ultimately wants to keep standards as high as possible, yet work within annual budgets and, despite the external market conditions, this is being achieved, as Paul concludes:

“There is a genuine relationship that we have built up over time; Pelican understands our school, pupils and catering set-up. They make the time to visit and have a genuine interest in us as a school. As far as I’m concerned, we have a partnership, they are not just a supplier.  

“The level of service that was promised at the very start of our relationship has been maintained throughout; and with what has been a challenging economy over the last decade, I would say that is nothing short of impressive. I am also confident that Pelican will support us through the next few years, with the inflationary and provision pressures that we will all face. This certainly helps me and the team to plan ahead, knowing that we have a genuine partner there to help us.”

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