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Stowe School, which originally opened in 1923, is an independent fully co-educational, boarding and day school located in the heart of Buckinghamshire. Its setting is second-to-none – based at Stowe House, which was formerly the country seat of the Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos. 

Along with many of the other buildings on the school’s 750-acre estate, the main house is a Grade I Listed ‘ducal palace’ building maintained by the Stowe House Preservation Trust.

With around 800 students – of which more than 600 are full-time boarders – an important function of Stowe School is its food service.  Its team produces and serves, on average, 12,250 meals a week across three services – breakfast, lunch and supper. They also cater for match teas and parent teas, as well as offering hospitality for various activities including School society dinners, weddings and outside events during out-of-term periods.

“We are a very busy Department at Stowe School and are committed to providing our pupils with a variety of menu dishes to ensure a well-balanced and nutritious diet. Quality is paramount.”

Debbie Kelly-Greaves, Head of Food Services and Hospitality

With three main dining rooms where the pupils typically eat, there are also a number of function rooms and 15 boarding/day houses and other meeting areas located around the school where food and beverage are provided.  It’s a big operation and logistically can be challenging. 

Continues Debbie “We have approx. 60 members of staff in our team and we operate from 6 am to 8:30 pm, seven days a week. Outside of the school term, we support our commercial event business. I’ve been here since September 2018 and it’s a vibrant operation that takes a great deal of organisation to ensure the foodservice meets the high-quality levels expected every day.”

Having been with Stowe School for a year, Debbie was keen to introduce some changes to the in-house catering operation to help create efficiencies, as she explains: “I’m used to operating systems, however here, there were still many manual processes in place, which was cumbersome. There was no central cost analysis for the procurement process, orders were written down, which provided no traceability or transparency.  I was very keen to change this and knew our team would greatly benefit from a more centralised way of managing our food and beverage procurement, stock control and management.  It was at this stage, we put a call out to the market for assistance.”

Procurement transformation

Having contacted three procurement firms, after various presentations and analysis of the school’s current processes, the team were keen to further engage with Pelican Procurement.  Confirms Debbie: “We liked that Pelican was very straightforward: it does what it says on the tin!  They were very honest, knowledgeable and we felt we could relate with them on a one-to-one level. We liked that they really listened to us and what we were trying to achieve. 

“Not only could we see they could support us with getting the best from our suppliers, but the Pi system would give us the centralised control that we needed.  The icing on the cake was the potential for making some cost savings along the way.”

Having awarded the contract to Pelican, the team started a supplier tender of Stowe School’s wholesale, dairy, fruit and vegetables, fresh meat, fresh meat and chemicals.  The quality of its fresh meat and seafood was paramount, and as part of this process, Pelican organised quality benchmarking and blind taste sampling of important lines.  On completion of the process, trading commenced in early 2020 of the selected products and suppliers, which had resulted in an 8% financial saving. 

A digitised approach

Talking about the changes that have taken place since Pelican onboarded and rolled out its Pi system solution, Debbie confirms, “If I think back to what we were doing 12-months ago to what we have now, we have completely transformed our process from a manual set-up to fully online.  With Pi, we have one digital platform that provides us with a recipe system, a stock system, transparent budgeting, an ordering system that includes our approved products, and it’s given us complete control.” 

Pi is a cloud-based system that offers a suite of purpose-built modules designed to empower finance, procurement and catering teams to work smarter and more efficiently. It consolidates online ordering, aids budget control, provides complete invoice management, supports recipe and menu development, allergen data, and provides clear management reporting and cost analysis.

Continues Debbie, “Previously, if there was an issue with an invoice we would have spent a significant amount of time wading through paperwork.  Now, we look in the Pi and can see the invoice straight away. We can draw down numerous professional reports, download information, make adjustments, send information as PDFs or Excel. Pi is a very versatile system that gives us the ability to completely understand how we perform on a regular basis. 

“We used to have members of staff inputting information, going through multiple paper invoices, and if we needed to query anything or make any changes, it was hard work.  The beauty of the Pi system is that it is enabling us to go paperless. A paper-trail isn’t needed, as everything related to our orders, costs, menus and stock is all in one place.”

With deliveries being made six days out of every seven, to meet Stowe School’s focus on offering fresh daily produce, the storeman who receives deliveries checks each in on the Pi system, enabling the Executive Chef, Anthony Horn, to reconcile the order. Once completed, the reconcile button is pressed and the order is ready for payment. 

Adds Debbie, “It’s just easier to manage; if there is a problem with a particular account it’s transparent – we can deal with it straight away.  At the outset, we involved Anthony in this process of transformation; he had come from a background where similar electronic systems were in place, so it was useful to have his insights too.” 

Ensuring consistency

During the pandemic, the team has been loading recipes into the Pi system. Explains Debbie, “I’m very keen for us to use set recipes for our meals as it gives us consistency – our chefs need not deviate from our proven recipes. We have the ability to calculate the precise cost of our dishes, while also being completely transparent regarding allergen data, which we can pass on to our customers with confidence.”

When asked about the support received from Pelican, Debbie confirms, “We’ve had really good support from the whole Pelican team; they spend time with us, our account manager is very supportive – if we need anything we can pick up the phone or email and he’s on it straight away.  They’ve set up meetings with suppliers, and if we have ever had an issue with a supplier, they will manage the conversations for us to resolve this.  We have also met their in-house dietician at a special event with other school catering heads, which was really useful; it was great to meet others to share experiences in an open forum.” 

Reflecting on the overall project, Debbie is quick to confirm that Pelican has helped them achieve their original aims and more; “With Pelican, there are no false promises; everything they have said they would do, they have done – and with real honesty, efficiency and in partnership with us.  We know we are getting the products we need, at the quality we demand, for a good price and with KPIs in place for delivery and service standards.  And as for the Pi system, it speaks for itself; it’s put me and the wider team in complete control.”  

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