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Primary school kids eat lunch in school cafeteria

Established in 2011, STEP Academy Trust is dedicated to improving the life chances of all children across its 20 academies in East Sussex and South London.

Suzanne Martin, Head of Facilities, explains how a strategic procurement partnership has streamlined the Trust’s catering management and procurement processes, significantly increasing savings and efficiencies.

Transition to in-house catering

I’ve been the Head of Facilities here at STEP Academy Trust for three years, and before that, I was Head of Catering. I have been with the Trust for 12 years and have worked with Pelican Procurement throughout this time.

STEP Academy Trust aims to provide an environment that promotes the health and well‐being of pupils, parents/carers and staff by ensuring that all food provision and food messages are healthy and consistent. We believe that healthier students learn more effectively and that a nutritionally balanced lunch can provide them with energy to keep their bodies and brains working throughout the afternoon.

We view catering as an integral part of a pupil’s experience and a factor which supports their learning and development. We have, therefore, chosen to manage our catering provision in-house to ensure that meals are well-balanced, visually appealing, and, of course, tasty! We also believe that meals should be prepared and served by a team who are not just passionate about catering, but also about the role they play in pupils’ education.

Centralised ordering & recipe management

Since our partnership began, we have been using the Pelican Pi eProcurement system. The system includes modules for order management, menu recipe development, costings, budgeting, automatic allergen data presentation, and more.

We have a set menu for all academies, which changes seasonally three times a year. With all processes linked across 18 of our academies, Pelican Pi has had a transformative impact on our teams. We can easily upload and manage all of our recipes on the Pi system. Pi also helps us quickly cost out these recipes so we can monitor and control spending.

All products and pricing are agreed upon with our suppliers, streamlining the purchasing for all sites in one place. If one of our Catering Managers, who oversees around four kitchens, wishes to introduce a new recipe, we simply contact our Procurement Manager, Bal at Pelican. He helps us identify products, negotiates the prices, and gets everything set up on Pi in the background.

To ensure that as much financial resource as possible is directed towards educating children, we have a responsibility within the catering team to make sure we operate efficiently. Knowing the Pelican team is working in the background to monitor any price changes against our agreed contract prices is a great help.

Allergen and nutrition information

The menu module within the Pi system pinpoints the allergens for every product we purchase and updates us if ingredients change. This saves so much time and helps to support and safeguard children with medical food allergies, playing an important part in a comprehensive set of safety processes.

We cater for a variety of dietary needs, including vegan and vegetarian diets, and we also specify nutritional information, such as whether a dish is dairy-free or gluten-free. Accounting for this through Pelican Pi results in huge time savings.

Invoice management

One significant advantage of working with Pelican is the time saved on administrative tasks. For example, their invoice management system is wonderful and a big time-saver.

We don’t have 101 invoices coming in from different suppliers for different schools. Instead, everything is organised by one direct debit once a month. We know the Pelican team has checked all costs, and we are being invoiced the right amount.

Beyond Food & Drink: Premises & Commercial Equipment

In recent years, Pelican’s role has expanded beyond catering to support our premises and facilities functions, as well as commercial equipment.

At the end of 2023, we reviewed cleaning products for our premises service. This was to improve safety and quality through consistency, as well as to generate cost and efficiency savings like those experienced within our catering team.  We’ve been able to consolidate suppliers for all cleaning products. Plus, Pelican negotiated the free installation of new dispensers at all locations, for toilet roll, hand soap and hand towels.

Pelican’s expert team have also advised us on the best commercial equipment to meet our requirements. We’ve been able to upgrade a basic dishwasher at one of our sites, where they provided a bespoke solution. In addition to this, we recently went to them for support when we upgraded three kitchen serveries, which improved functionality and aesthetics.

Sustainability Efforts

A big item on our agenda is monitoring and managing sustainability targets. With the help of our Pelican procurement manager, we have decreased deliveries from five to two days per week. Not only does this help save on food miles, but it also reduces the cost and wider implications of multiple deliveries.

We are also looking to start using Pelican’s CO2e module to calculate the food carbon footprint of our recipes to identify where we can make more environmentally friendly dishes.

This will support the existing efforts of our Pupil Parliaments, who have been leading on food waste reduction across STEP.

In Conclusion:

The support Pelican offer is invaluable – I don’t know what I’d do without it. They are like an extension of my team. If I’m stuck, I can call or email, and they are always there to help me.

We had an incident with a supplier who pulled out prior to Christmas. Bal set up another supplier straight away and no products were missed. A huge headache was averted thanks to Pelican’s expertise!

Pelican Procurement is a trusted partner to us. They have significantly enhanced our operational efficiency and identified cost savings in our catering and premises facilities functions that can be directed towards the classroom. They have also been pivotal in supporting our future sustainability goals.

I think I am one of the biggest supporters of the services offered through Pelican Pi. Everyone finds Pi so straightforward to use; it just makes our lives much easier.

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