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In this article Neil Phillips, the Commercial Director for Signature Senior Lifestyle, and Chris Burdett, Food & Beverage Manager, talk about the changes the organisation made to its food and beverage operation to be the best in their industry. 

Food and beverage offering 

Signature Senior Lifestyle has a mission which is “To provide exceptional care, delivered by compassionate people, in the highest quality homes.” With 10 homes across the South East, quality is paramount – from the accommodation and care provided, to the food and activities available to its residents.

With a large emphasis placed on the quality of its food offering, we spoke with Neil Phillips, the Commercial Director for Signature Senior Lifestyle, to look at how the organisation is managing its food and beverage requirements:

“As a care operator, we don’t want to be the biggest, but instead want to be the best. Our portfolio has grown to 10 care homes with two new home opening this summer and when looking at the operational costs overall, food and beverages is our second biggest expense, after our staff.

In fact, we place a great emphasis on food quality, and in providing our residents with a superior service at meal times; it’s one of the key foundations of our service delivery.

Food is considered one of the most important activities of the day; some care operators look to save costs here, whereas for us it is one of our key differentiators. We have waitress service at every home and offer a choice of starters, mains, puddings and a light bite.” 

As a group, it places a great deal of effort into creating an experience akin to a restaurant, as well as providing café areas where homemade pastries and cakes are served.  Continues Neil; “It’s a great experience for residents and visitors alike.   We like to think we set the bar in terms of standards.

Supply chain challenges

However, as a commodity, food prices fluctuate at irregular intervals and without a great deal of warning, this has the potential to create a management headache.”

When Food & Beverage Manager, Chris Burdett, joined the business in 2013 a contract with a national food and beverage supplier had been arranged, however with expansions plans in place, it was agreed, 18-months later, that support was needed in a number of areas, as Chris explains:

“Firstly, we were experiencing supply chain issues with the supplier not turning up with the correct products when needed, which meant some chefs in the homes were having to purchase items locally, at greater cost – and inconvenience.  

As a care provider, we are specialists in caring and not in the provision of food and drink. We don’t have the full visibility of the food and beverages market and therefore keeping up with industry pricing was needed, to enable us to keep one step ahead and better plan our menus and budgets.

We also had no consistent stock taking processes in place, so found tracking inbound products versus those we had in stock difficult to determine.

On top of this, we wanted to find a way to accurately calculate our menu costings by portion, wherever possible.  At the time, we had no system in place to track portion control or the contents of the menus, and as a group with plans to grow, we could see the benefits of putting a system in place to track this;  from both a cost management point of view, as well as consistency perspective on the dishes being served.”

Working with food procurement specialists  

A decision was made to outsource the food and beverage procurement function to a specialist team, who could work in partnership with the group and support the price negotiations, supplier relationships, and help with the overall administration that goes in to this extensive function.

Adds Neil: “Back in 2013, we had vetted five procurement groups, but at the time decided on a straight contract with a national wholesaler, however our needs had dramatically changed.  Pelican stood out in my mind, so we engaged with Pelican and they were quick to act – firstly helping us to come out of contact with the current supplier in order to do a full review.”

The reliance of Signature on one supplier to provide all frozen, ambient, meat, dairy, fish and fruit and vegetables on 2-3 deliveries per week, whilst in theory should have provided the best market pricing, however the extent of the range and performance issues meant food costs were being impacted. Pelican got to work by splitting Signature’s food purchasing into categories and putting the business to market for re-tendering with regional suppliers.

Confirms Neil: “The initial result from this exercise was a reduction in cost in every category – 12% dairy, 8% fish, 4% frozen and grocery, 3.5% fruit and vegetables, and 1.5% meat.  The fresh food suppliers were also offering delivery six days per week, yet the increased service did not come at an additional cost and meant our order values were in fact lower.”

The result of this activity also directly benefits the residents, as Chris explains: “By rationalising suppliers, we are now using regional suppliers and many of our residents like to know that their meat, vegetables and fish are coming from local sources, wherever possible.  

At all of our homes, we have a monthly ‘food forum’, and this is where our chefs and the manager meet residents to talk about food choices, menus and ideas for future dishes.  We get a great deal of interaction here, with immediate feedback.  It’s all about the residents – it’s their home after all – and so it’s great that we have flexibility with products and suppliers.”

Adds Chris: “Ultimately, we have more control of our spend; every year since working with Pelican, we have generated savings.  We’re not seeing the price movements that we were previously. For example, we’re just reviewing frozen foods and prices have held.  I would say this is a rarity in the market, and this is down to Pelican.  They are able to proactively alert us to potential increases and how we can work around them – for example, butter and double cream are something we use a lot of, and Pelican have been able to direct us to the best suppliers, in advance, to ensure we are not impacted by price jumps.”

Technology’s role in procurement

Another benefit of working with a procurement partner has been the ability to utilise their specialist back-office system, Pi, to manage supplier payments, ordering, stock control, recipe costing and menu management

Menu and recipe management

We budget for around £7.00 to £8.00 per resident, per day and so it is important to think about menu planning and Pi enables us to do this. For example, we aim to serve different protein on different days, so there’s always a fish, meat and a vegetable dish. However, at any time we can see when there is money available in the budget, so can put on fillet steak, or scallops, without worry. The immediate visibility through Pi is ideal for this.”

We are developing a range of standard menus which are available on Pi for chefs to access at any time, plus our catering team can share their own dishes here too for other homes to enjoy. Chefs are now able to compose each dish on their menus using agreed ingredients, adding to the compliance. The Pi system automatically provides each dish with an accurate food cost and, any allergens and nutritional information for that dish.

e-Invoice Management

Invoicing has also been streamlined – before Chris could mop up days and days checking the small details of various supplier invoices, querying line items of quantity prices.  Now, Pelican does all of this and we receive one consolidated statement through Pi for us to sign-off, enabling Chris to concentrate on on-boarding new homes, and working on our offering and quality standards.

Online Ordering

Signature has also adopted Pi’s online ordering module. Previously, homes were not compliant with ordering the best value products on their contract list. Using telesales and not ordering by code often meant the wrong product was ordered. By using Cherry Pi, it has provided a simple tool that allows sites to place all of their food orders via one single platform. And, because each chef can see the products and codes they are ordering there is no confusion with getting the right products delivered.  Adds Chris: “Here at Signature, we are now 96% compliant to our agreed purchase lists. The other 4% are all monthly and daily specials suppliers offer.”

Stock management

In addition, Signature also uses Pi’s stock management module. This allows homes to complete a monthly stock check. The end result is to provide Signature with an overview of stock usage, which enables them to review additional controls, while providing a value of stock remaining at every home that can be carried over each month on the group’s Profit and Loss reports.

Working in partnership

Concludes Neil: “For us, this is where we really value our relationship with Pelican. I have quarterly meetings with our account procurement manager, Stuart Chapman, and our Food & Beverage team have meetings monthly. As far as I see it, there are suppliers and then there are partners.  Pelican is a key partner for Signature.”

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