• It's Crunch Time

    Posted by Lisa Truax on 12/5/2017

    It’s definitely crunch time as we approach the release of the food and distribution services solicitation in North Dakota.  We’ve had a few last minute school food authorities (SFAs) join the solicitation process only increasing the footprint of participants in this solicitation process.  Currently, this solicitation will be bringing 90 North Dakota schools together! 

    Yes!  That’s a lot of information and data to comb through, but that is the service that NDESC is providing to members.  I’ve sorted, data mined information, communicated with SFAs, and working towards a draft of the solicitation that reflects the desires of food service directors in the great state of North Dakota.  We still have a long way to go in the next five weeks, however, I truly believe that this will be one of the most competitive solicitations. The cooperative process is definitely saving your district time, energy, and a lot of dollars in the long run.

    Stay tuned as we begin to draft and finalize documents.  Feel free to reach out to your neighbors who might be on the focus groups {find them here} and let them know your feedback on what makes a great food service program. 

    As always, please let us know if you have any questions.

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  • NDESC Focus Group Members Connect to Discuss Solicitation Process

    Posted by Lisa Truax on 10/24/2017

    A little over a week ago, the first official focus group meeting took place.  Focus Group Schools agreeing to participate in the focus group gathered on a conference call.  While NDESC got the group up to speed on what NDESC’s been doing over the summer, there was great discussion in regards to what North Dakota schools want out of their prime food distributor.   For a quick recap of the meeting, follow the highlights below.

    Getting Up to Speed

    • NDESC met with 26 different manufacturers and brokers this summer to learn more about their side of the food industry and how it relates to K12.
    • NDESC hosted an in-person distributor meeting in August 2017.  Ten different distributors attended to learn about the cooperative, the solicitation process and the value of the program.
    • NDESC has been working with 88 schools to complete their Letters’ of Commitments along with gathering information such as delivery needs, usage/velocity reports and financial reports.  *Usage/velocity reports severely influence the total volume for all participants.  NDESC stated schools not submitting their usage reports will directly impact the discounts offered by manufacturers and brokers.

    Service Zones

    • North Dakota is composed of eight (8) regional educational associations (REAs), which are based off the number of participants and the volume/spend of those participants; NDESC has established four (4) service zones for this solicitation. Each of the four (4) service zones averages between $1.7 to $2 million dollars in spend and averages between 17 and 24 participants.  Click here for a map laying out the service zones and highlighting which schools belong to each zone.  For a closer look at which districts are participating, visit our interactive map.

    Focus Group Responsibilities
    The focus group for the solicitation was made up of food service directors, business managers and superintendents, all of which have a direct impact on a schools’ child nutrition program.  Members of the focus group will be required to review solicitation documents, provide input and feedback on various items.  These members will be the initial group that will evaluate qualified responses from vendors and make recommendations for live vendor presentations.

    If you would like to be part of the focus group, please let me know by sending an email to ltruax@ndesc.org

    As we move into the draft and development stage of the RFP, please review the updated timeline posted below.

     November 2017 – December 2017: draft and development stage of RFP documents.

    • January 2018 – February 2018: release of RFP.
    • March 2018: due date, evaluations, presentations and award(s) made
    • April 2018: NDESC to execute contract and awarded distributor(s) to start implementation/onboarding plans for any schools making a shift to a new distributor.
    • July 2018: official contract start date.
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  • Committing to the Service Cooperative Process; Change is a Good Thing

    Posted by Lisa Truax on 9/26/2017

    As we head into the competitive solicitation process, some of you may be nervous about the process and have concerns about who could be your potential distributor, product changes, and even cost of the product itself.  I completely understand that moving to a new process can be uncomfortable.  Please know that we at the service cooperative will work hand in hand with you throughout the process. Other things to keep in mind:

    Compliance. Know that the cooperative is facilitating a process to ensure all federal and state regulations are being followed.  The cooperative does competitive solicitations and contract management on a daily basis, all while running a compliant food solicitation for the past 20 plus years for its members.   The cooperative team is constantly following the changes, memos and updates regarding the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.  Did you know that certain federal language and signed documents are required during a competitive food solicitation process?  The cooperative does, and it puts extensive research into knowing those specific details to ensure protection of its participating school districts.

    Knowing who is all involved.  For the food solicitation process, the cooperative is merely the facilitator for participating school districts.  Across the tri-state area, the cooperative is currently trending to serve over 175 school districts. Up 26% from the last time we conducted this process in 2013, showing the value of the cooperative in regards to savings, knowledge of the competitive process and management and support of its participants. For a map of all those involved, visit https://www.ndesc.org/Page/436.  When looking at the map, those schools shown in gold have designated their interest in being part of the focus groups who will help steer the terms and conditions and the product specification lists based on the volume of products being purchased amongst participating schools.  The larger the volume, the better the price!

    Save on soft costs.  What do I mean when I say soft costs?  I define soft costs as the time, energy and resources spent on not only conducting the solicitation process but also managing the resulting contract. The cooperative, with your involvement, takes on that process.   So far in this solicitation process, the cooperative has completed the following:

    • Hosted webinars – approximately 6 hours
    • Hosted conference calls – approximately 10 hours
    • Hosted meetings with 26 manufacturers and brokers – approximately 40 hours
    • Hosted and communicated with distributors – approximately 15 hours
    • Tracked and communicated with committed participants – approximately 60 hours
    • Promoted the food service program – approximately 10 hours
    • Running total = 141 hours

    As a service cooperative, our mission is to support the work of our members, and we’ve been doing that for 20+ years with our food service program.  If you have any hesitations, please feel free to call me at 888-739-3289.

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  • Provide Your Input through Participation

    Posted by Lisa Truax on 9/12/2017

    Join the Focus Groups…Be a Pinnacle Part of the Solicitation Process

    Many of you might wonder what the roles, duties and responsibilities of the focus groups are when it comes to the solicitation process.  Focus groups are composed of school personnel who are wanting to provide feedback on the solicitation process, assist in developing the terms and conditions, creating the product specification list(s), evaluating responses and recommending vendors for live presentations. 

    Focus Group Meeting How much time will it take?
    Members of the focus groups are not required to drive X amount of miles to attend focus group meetings. The cooperatives will make accommodations for those who are not able to attend in person (when applicable). A majority of focus group meetings will occur over webinar, conference call and/or email.  Focus group participants however do have to commit to responding to the cooperative within a timely manner when requested (i.e. evaluations due, review of the RFP drafts, providing feedback, etc.). 

    Interested in Participating in the Focus Group?
    If you haven’t already signed up through the Letter of Commitment to be part of the focus group, contact Lisa Truax at ltruax@lcsc.org and she’ll send you’re the required paperwork to be an active member in the focus group.

    What to expect next?
    Once the Letter of Commitment deadline has passed (September 29, 2017), the cooperative will begin communication with the focus group or groups.  Depending on the number of those wanting to participate and their representation, the cooperative may create smaller focus groups depending on the service zone(s) created for this solicitation.  Meetings (in-person, webinar, and conference call) dates and times will be scheduled and coordinated with the focus group(s).   

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  • Cooperative Hosts In-Person Distributor Meeting

    Posted by Lisa Truax on 8/30/2017

    Cooperative Provides Free and Open Competition to All Distributors

    Mid-day Thursday, August 1, 2017, nine (9) major players in the K-12 food service industry entered the doors of Lakes Country Service Cooperative to learn more about the food service program, its members, and the upcoming solicitation process it will be conducting with its committed school food authorities (SFAs).

    Collaboratively, in a conference room, the following companies listened attentively to cooperative personnel explain the competitive food procurement process: Distributors CashWa Distributing, Food Services of America, Martin Brothers, Reinhart – Marshall & Twin Cities, Sysco North Dakota, Sysco Western Minnesota, Upper Lakes Foods, and US Foods.  Indianhead and Reinhart - La Crosse were not in attendance, but the cooperative will continue outreach to those distributors. 

    A background and history of the past programs was also given to the distributors as many were new to the cooperative model when it comes to food procurement.  The group talked about USDA and State Agency mandates, how the cooperative will utilize focus groups in the solicitation process, how the cooperative will facilitate the RFP process and manage the resulting contract(s).    The cooperative was also able to answer questions received from the distributors.  Holding the distributor meetings in person shows the importance of competition, the value of the SFAs participating in the program, and brings all of the major distributors to the table in one location hearing the exact same message.

    As a follow up to the meeting, all distributors were invited to create a free account on Public Purchase.  Public Purchase is a platform in which the solicitation will be released and conducted.  This platform will be the only way for the distributor to obtain the RFP documents.

    As always, it’s important that you continue to message and tell your distributors to respond to the RFP.  The distributors have heard the benefits from of the program coming from the cooperative but the value is reinforced when they hear it from the schools directly.  The more responding distributors, the better the pricing!

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  • Is Your School Meeting Buy American Guidelines?

    Posted by Lisa Truax on 8/16/2017

    Did you know that all School Food Authorities (SFAs) who participate in the National School Lunch (NLSP) or School Breakfast Programs (SBP) are required to purchase, to the maximum extent practicable, domestic commodities or products according to 7 CFR Part 210.21(d) ?

    The USDA defines a domestic commodity as either being produced in the United States (i.e. chicken tenders from chickens raised in the U.S.) or a product that uses a substantial (over 51%) amount of product produced in the U.S. (i.e. 10# canned whole kernel corn produced and processed in the U.S.). 

    Buy American Do we have to stop serving bananas, mandarin oranges and using spices in our food service program?  Definitely not!  The USDA permits some exceptions, especially when the product cannot be produced in sufficient quantities and or be reasonably available.  However, schools should limit the amount of non-domestic products they serve in their food service programs.

    It’s January in the Midwest – should I be serving strawberries?  Probably not!  SFA’s try to align their menus when product, especially produce can be produced within the U.S.  Meaning, serving strawberries would best align in the spring through fall months in the Midwest which allows distributors to access crops based in southern California versus Mexico in the winter months.

    How do I make sure that I’m compliant with Buy American?  First off, the Buy American provision should always be included in the solicitation documents as well as contracts and product specification lists.  However, it is the SFA’s (district/school’s) responsibility to check the products they are ordering and receiving to ensure the country of origin does in fact reflect a U.S. produced or processed product. 

    As part of the solicitation process, the cooperative will work with the focus groups to ensure the Buy American guidelines are being met with the RFP documents and resulting contract.

    For more information on the Buy American Act, see USDA memo SP 38-2017.

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  • Meeting the Backside of your Food Service Program

    Posted by Lisa Truax on 7/21/2017

    Do you know the difference?

    Many people don’t know the difference between a manufacturer, a broker and a distributor when it comes to K-12 foodservice.  Sitting down with 20 different manufacturers and brokers these past few weeks reinforced the valuable resources that these companies and representatives hold when it comes to K-12 foodservice.  As I began to explain the food solicitation process to an interested school district, I thought to myself, do I need to start at the beginning and explain all of the parties involed with a food service program?  The answer was YES!

    manufacturer is a company that transforms livestock and agricultural products into products for final consumption.  In other words, they are the group that takes the cow and turns it into a beef patty served in your lunch lines.  They’re the starting point for many of the products you serve to your students on a daily basis.  Depending on their size, some manufacturers have K-12 representatives that you may have spoken The Food System with at an SNA food show or even had a visit from at your district.  Typically the manufacturers who have the direct representative are very large and do a lot of business across the United States.  Those who are not that large, or choose to sell through a non-direct representative, work through brokers.

    K-12 food brokers are sales agents that negotiate sales for manufacturers of food products.  Brokers provide a service to both the manufacturers and distributors who are buying the product to deliver to your district.  Brokers can represent multiple manufacturers at the same time, covering most aspects of K-12 food service.  Some of you have met brokers at SNA conferences, mini food shows or have had a visit directly from one, or many, of them.  However, when it comes to actually purchasing a product most school districts purchase from a distributor.

    distributor is a company that provides food and non-food products to K-12 foodservice.  They also distribute product to larger markets such as restaurants, hospitals and nursing homes.  Distributors in the current market include, but are not limited to: Cash-Way Distributing, Food Services of America, Indianhead Food Distributors, Martin Brothers, Reinhart Foodservice, Sysco, Upper Lakes Foods and US Foods.

    So there you have it, that’s the basics of how most of you receive the core staple groceries you serve on a daily basis.  As we move into the solicitation process, it’s extremely important for us to make sure that all parties involved in K-12 foodservice are aware of the competitive opportunity that will be available to them.  

    Here are some of the manufacturers and brokers that we’ve spoken with so far in this journey:  Bernard Food Industries, Bix Produce, Acosta, Bakes Sales Company, GVM Marketing, Heinz, JTM Food Group, KeyImpact, Lakeland, The Core Group, Apple and Eve, Cavendish Farms, Cloverdale Meats, ConAgra, Domino's Smart Slice, Foster Farms, General Mills, Notables, Red Gold, Schwan's Food Company, Advance Pierre, and MixMi.

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  • CPC Begins Outreach to Food Brokers and Manufacturers

    Posted by Lisa Truax on 7/6/2017

    Come mid-July, CPC will begin its outreach to food brokers and manufacturers.  Meetings will consist of learning more about one another, including product lines, how they work with current distributors, new products entering the K-12 market and how the cooperative assists its participating school districts in conducting the food and distribution solicitation. 

    With over a dozen meetings scheduled with brokers and manufacturers, CPC will have a busy summer combining all of the information and preparing summaries for the focus groups that will steer and drive the terms and conditions and product specification lists set forth in the upcoming RFP. 

    CPC plans to host a single meeting time for all distributors who are able to service Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota to learn more about the solicitation process and for CPC and its participating schools to learn more about how food distribution works, the pros and the cons when it comes to K-12 foodservice.

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  • 2017 Farm to School Awardees Announced

    Posted by Lisa Truax on 6/20/2017

    North Dakota Department of Public Instruction Named USDA Grant Awardee

    Congratulations to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction and the North Dakota Department of Agriculture on their receipt of a $75,000 grant awarded from USDA.  The Department of Public Instruction and the Department of Agriculture will partner to promote local foods through North Dakota Farm to School Month and Pride of Dakota School Lunch Day with special menus and aprons for schools and child care facilities.  They will contract with a farmer and marketing partner to provide technical assistance and sub-grants to schools and child care facilities conducting farm to school and farm to preschool activities.

    The Farm to School Grant was designed to increase the availability of local foods in schools. These grants can help farm to school programs get started or expand existing efforts.  Grant funds support a wide variety of activities from training, planning and developing partnerships to creating new menu items, establishing supply chains, offering taste tests to children, purchasing equipment, planting school gardens, and organizing field trips to agricultural operations.  For more information, visit: https://www.fns.usda.gov/pressrelease/2017/005617


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  • Chat With Us At NDSNA 2017

    Posted by Lisa Truax on 6/1/2017

    NDSNA Conference

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