More school districts are leaning toward purchasing collectively and acting as a buying collaborative to lower prices and increase local purchases, but some groups are taking it a step further and releasing joint requests for proposals (RFPs). RFPs allow districts to continue the savings past a single group purchase and lock in lower prices for an entire school year. Eight districts in Contra Costa County, representing 69,000 students, released a joint dairy RFP this spring and awarded the contract to Crystal Creamery for the 2016/17 school year. Using a single spreadsheet that recorded usage totals for dairy products, school nutrition directors from Pittsburg Unified School District, Walnut Creek School District, Brentwood Union School District, Byron Union School District, Liberty Union High School District, Oakley Union Elementary School District, Mount Diablo Unified School District, and West Contra Costa Unified School District all contributed the amount of each product they needed, as well as their delivery locations and schedules.
The group, along with Antioch Unified School District and guidance from the California Department of Food and Agriculture Office of Farm to Fork and the Center for Ecoliteracy, are in the process of forming a Joint Powers Agreement to legally strengthen their ability to purchase together beyond acting as a buying collaborative. The directors saw dairy as a great place to start joint purchases as all public districts are required to serve milk daily. The contract includes milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream, and other miscellaneous dairy products.
Working together significantly lowers the price for small districts that benefit from being included in the group along with large districts like Mount Diablo and West Contra Costa.
“Brentwood Union is very thankful to have the support of larger districts when it comes to purchasing. Our district serves about 5,000 meals per day. Next year we anticipate saving about $8,000 because of the Co-Op, not to mention the legal costs involved in reviewing the RFP/ bid documents and labor costs,” remarked Allison Mayer, Food Services Coordinator for Brentwood Union School District.
Angelia Nava, Director of Child Nutrition Services at Pittsburg Unified School District commented that pricing is similar to what they received individually but the group proposal and contract lays the groundwork for buying other products collectively. This summer the group will release another RFP focusing on seasonal fruits and vegetables, targeting items that are often financially out of reach, such as local strawberries and tomatoes. For many of the students their only exposure to seasonal fruits and vegetables will be through the free or reduced price meal served at school. The directors hope their efforts will aid in creating life long healthy eating habits and a knowledge of the array of agricultural products California has to offer.
The joint dairy contract is a stepping stone for introducing more California produced products to school meals. The districts hope their efforts can be replicated across the state by other counties, looking to lower prices, improve quality, and increase the variety of products offered to students.