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Established in 1963, the University of York is a prestigious collegiate research university, located in the city of York across a campus that extends over 500 acres. Over the years, the university has expanded to more than thirty departments and centres, covering a wide range of subjects.

Commercial Services is responsible for managing the university’s various commercial operations which cater for the needs of its students, staff and visitors, including catering, print, retail, conferencing and sports facilities. It contributes significantly to one of the three core University objectives, which is ‘enhancing the student experience’.

One of the key services provided by Commercial Services is catering. The Directorate is responsible for operating a diverse range of dining areas, bars and catering retail outlets both on and off campus in addition to running an in-house catering service for hospitality on campus called “Cucina”.

The University of York – The Mac Shack

These cater to the needs of staff, students and visitors, offering a 7-day catering service, 365 days a year, with a majority of outlets situated across two main campuses. With an average food and beverage budget exceeding £2m per annum* in a normal year, the University initiated a transformation project to modernise the overall procurement process and centralise the function to help create efficiencies, as well as generate financial savings.

The procurement challenge

Rob Hunt, Director of Procurement & Transactional Services, explained: “I initiated a tender, following a request from Commercial Services, to identify a procurement partner that could support the University in replacing manual ordering, stock and invoice management with a digital service. We wanted to identify a cloud-hosted stock management system, linked to purchasing arrangements that would allow us to generate the best value for money and would replace an unwieldy and unsustainable process that was largely on spreadsheets, and therefore manually inefficient.”

There were fundamentally two key drivers that were leading this procurement review, as Rob continues: “The first driver was to create an interconnection between the different outlets across our campus. We had no central visibility on what stock was available or where. Chefs would phone around the outlets to check and as such we were ordering in piecemeal, which was not only inefficient but often worked out to be more expensive in the long run.”

The lack of central management systems also meant there was nowhere to store and access recipes, nutritional information, allergen data or calculate wastage, or cost per serve, as Rob continues: “We couldn’t play the ‘what if game’ – for example, what if we substituted lamb for beef, what impact would that have on nutritional values or cost per portion? For a multi-outlet operation, we were not in a strong position in that way. Yes, there was strong central management but no supporting tools to really bring everything together. This was the main driver.”

Catering Team at The University of York

“The secondary driver was to review the actual procurement of our food; each outlet would buy independently and sporadically. While we had a framework in place, we were not working collaboratively. In fact, we were probably buying more stock yet not getting preferential pricing as we were buying cases here and there, deliveries would be happening without a coordinated approach. We needed to take control of this, to give us better overall management, visibility and also help create savings.”

An open tender process was initiated to identify a procurement partner and having received several bids, two potential suppliers were shortlisted – including Pelican Procurement. Confirms Rob: “It was a two-horse race, however, Pelican’s system, Pi, was the most integrated and responsive system and we also really liked the fact that Pelican would consolidate supplier invoices into one. While both offered an improvement on where we were, we went for Pelican as the best overall solution.

Discovering the solution

Upon appointing Pelican, the groundwork commenced, which started with a review of suppliers. As Rob concurs, “The priority was to review our suppliers – we knew that when that was right, we would be working with agreed suppliers, products, pricing and could then work on getting everything loaded into the Pi system.”

“Pelican has been great at involving our chefs in the review process – as well as involving incumbent suppliers, we also have local suppliers which have been included in Pelican’s arrangement and this has allowed chefs to have some degree of local choice, which they like.”

Pelican also arranged taste tests, enabling the University’s chefs to be intimately involved in the process, as Rob adds: “Our chefs value choice, so they were involved in the process from the outset, which was great as they can really see the benefits of the Pi system and what we are trying to achieve.”

When asked about the feedback received from the team of chefs, Jane Anness, Head of Hospitality at the University of York replies, “We have four Head Chefs, and approximately 25 chef de partie within our team, as well as an Executive Head Chef and a Food Development Manager. They have all enjoyed the fact they can have some influence in the choice of suppliers and products. They have been involved in sampling sessions as part of the tender process to ascertain the quality of the products available. Another positive and time saver is that the need to phone orders has been removed. The linked stock system is smarter, interlinked and more time-efficient.”

“The team likes being able to place orders online and now we’re in the process of adding our recipes into Pi. It’s a major project with around 5,000 recipes in total but will give us consistency in the recipe being used across the outlets with, the ability to calculate costs of dishes very quickly, and immediate access to allergen data.”

Delivering results

The benefits of working in partnership with Pelican are already creating efficiencies as Rob is quick to enthuse: “Ordering via Pi is now much easier; now with preferred agreements, our chefs can literally, with an iPad, select what they want, check out and it goes through. They no longer need to phone through orders, check prices or manually record orders.”

Adds Jane: “With Pelican’s help we have purchased a new food labelling system which will produce and print bespoke labels quickly, ensuring we are compliant with Natashas’ Law. Additionally, with Pi, we are working on implementing a new ‘allergen & nutritional food portal’, that will enable our customers to easily find out more about the food we sell – this will also offer us the ability to advertise this service via QR codes.”

With Pelican at the team’s side, they no longer have to personally negotiate supplier contracts and no longer need individual resources in-house to manage food procurement as Rob explains: “We used to have someone specifically overseeing food purchasing, but now Pelican is managing this, and we can concentrate our efforts elsewhere; Pelican are the experts and don’t need hand-holding.”

University of York – Catering Team

Agrees Jane: “I’ve worked here for 20 years, and Pelican is a breath of fresh air. They provide us with the benefit of a one-stop-shop; we’ve got a single point of contact with Sarah Garnade, Pelican Procurement Manager, who is fantastic. She accommodates us and our quirks and is really proactive. If there are discrepancies in pricing, she will rectify the discrepancy for us.”

A significant efficiency that has resulted from the relationship is the invoice management that Pelican provides. By consolidating all supplier invoices into one, the accounts payable team have been greatly relieved of administrative burden as Rob explains: “Previously, without exaggeration, we received many hundreds of supplier invoices. It took time to reconcile these, check prices and manually process. Now, we have one single monthly invoice per outlet; we know that Pelican is monitoring and managing our prices, and this change alone has made a huge difference.”

When reflecting on the original business case for working with a procurement partner, Rob comments: “We were looking for a mixture of improved functionality, savings in processing invoices, food procurement consolidation, improved student satisfaction, reduced waste and improved stock management, with an added advantage of financial savings. While volumes have been lower due to the pandemic, our percentage savings are still holding up and we are certainly seeing results in all areas.”

Concludes Rob: “It’s all worked very well. I have quarterly progress meetings and the financial savings are holding up. The account reporting I receive from Pelican is extremely informative and is one of the best management reports I receive from a supplier; it tells me what I need to know and we have much greater visibility than ever before.”

“I would certainly recommend the Pelican approach – and in fact have already done so to other universities. Across the University of York, we have a mixture of collaborative agreements – specialist ones like Pelican and others, which are more bespoke. For us, it fits well within our structure, it has freed up a great deal of time, and the percentage savings are on track.”

“We are achieving all our original objectives, even during these most unusual times, and are far better off today than we were in 2018.”

To summarise, Jane adds: “Working with Pelican means we have a one-stop-shop for our food procurement, gives rigour to food legislation compliance and is saving us time – I feel this was long overdue for us!”

*excluding the period covered by the pandemic

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