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Background

Sedbergh School is a leading co-educational full boarding school located between the picturesque Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District.

Deputy bursar Toby Lehmann has seen significant benefits from undertaking a full review of their catering procurement. Lehmann explains: “Catering has always been a large aspect of the role, given that we produce 17,849 meals every week.

“Although we had help from a procurement company in sourcing our food, we struggled to control the order process and, as a result, the weekly spend. The bottom line was that we didn’t have control and had to try to explain budget variance to the COO each month. Something needed to change.”

Operational Challenges

With over 890 students, the school has a nursery, preparatory school and a senior school. There are 11 houses in total, including nine for senior residential each with their own dining room, two for preparatory who eat in a single dining room, then in addition to the ‘Queen’s Hall’ hospitality suite.  Deputy Bursar, Toby Lehmann, is responsible for overseeing the operations of the schools’ extensive facilities including the catering, maintenance, grounds, IT, cleaning, laundry, drivers, health and safety and more.

Explains Toby: “I joined the school in 2016 having completed 30 years of military service as an Army Officer. I report to the Chief Operating Officer (COO) and two headmasters on all aspects of operations, which is an extensive role.  Catering has always been a large aspect of the role, given that we produce around 17,849 meals every week.

 “What was very clear to me from the very outset was that although we had help from a procurement company in sourcing our food, we never had a clear view on who was ordering what, what our spend was from week to week or how the budget was fairing overall.  The bottom line is that we didn’t have control and were often over budget, which would need to be explained to the COO each month. Something needed to change.”

A Review of Procurement

Lehmann was keen to identify a solution to turn around the management of the catering function. This was compounded when a new governor joined the school with a focus on compliance and transparency; he was keen for us to identify whether the school is getting value for money from its suppliers and what could be done to ensure a healthy competition is in place. 

“This really sparked us into undertaking a full review of the catering procurement and to look at re-tendering. At the same time a new chef manager, Nick Beaumont, joined the boarding houses, and we also brought in an independent consultant to undertake a benchmarking exercise to see what our spend was, compared to national averages.  We learned pretty quickly that we were spending more than we needed to and the consultant initiated an exercise to review the services of procurement firms that could help us.”

Having undertaken desk-based research into the potential candidates, it came down to the incumbent firm and Pelican Procurement.  Both firms came in and presented their offerings including the software tools that they use to support the overall purchasing process.

Continues Toby, “There were three key aspects we were really evaluating.  Price is of course key, however the IT systems that support the service as well as people are also crucial to the operation. It was clear from the start that Pelican are heads and shoulders above what else is out there.  Compared to the competition, the Pelican Pi system is in a different category and while there were personal loyalties to the incumbent, the decision laid with myself, Nick and our catering finance coordinator, and we knew there was no competition: Pelican stood out.”

Having taken the decision to partner with Pelican, the team set to work on helping the school in managing its purchasing costs and applying greater discipline to the overall ordering and management in order to maintain savings.

Pelican worked closely with Toby to understand the school’s purchasing and budgetary requirements, existing supplier relationships as well as the importance it places on food miles and supporting local producers.  As Toby confirms, “It is important that we continue to support the village and wider community wherever possible.  When talking to Pelican, they factored this in to the supplier tender process and I’m delighted that we have been able to continue working with our local meat and fruit and vegetables suppliers, both of whom are very local in the village.  The wholesaler is within an hour and carries a range of Cumbrian produce, including milk and eggs, plus our fish is sourced from a supplier on the Cumbrian coastline.”

Pelican also set to consolidating supply and uniformity of product across the entire estate, which would help them to not only reduce costs, but standardise service across all of the 9 houses and the prep school.   Sampling sessions are arranged by Pelican on a termly basis so chefs can taste test products and agree on which would be the preferred options. Over the first year these have included bacon and sausage lines, stocks and bouillons, chips, morning goods and cheddar cheese.   

A tender process was put into place for a wide range of categories including dry goods, frozen, ambient, non-foods, chemicals, meat and poultry, fruit and vegetables, dairy and seafoods.

Continues Toby, “Pelican really left no stone unturned and have thought of every eventuality; they even arranged for key suppliers to come and visit, including drivers, so they could undertake reconnaissance to understand the logistics of our sites. Due to our location, we can easily get snowed in during the cold winter months and so Pelican has collated our winter service requirements and put a plan in place for all suppliers to ensure we receive our deliveries, without disruption.”

Delivering Transparency through IT

Aside from the tendering, a major element of change has been the adoption of Pelican’s procurement system – Pi. 

The online Pi portal provides Sedbergh with a huge amount of visibility and time savings to all departments. It includes a wide range of modules, which includes invoice management, stock control, intelligence reports, online ordering, menu and recipe analysis, and more.  

Now, instead of processing around 300 separate supplier invoices every month, the school receives just one consolidated invoice from Pelican.  All orders are managed through Pi, which the 11 head chefs coordinate and process with ease, and Pelican oversees ongoing price management to overcome price fluctuations and inflation.

Explains Toby, “Our major issue before was that we simply had no visibility of our spend. With 11 separate facilities it would take us two or three weeks after the month-end to manually work out what had been spent where! The difficulty here is that by the time we had worked out where an overspend had occurred, it could be six weeks after the event.  Clearly this couldn’t continue.

“Now, with Pi everything is visible in real-time. I can look at any time to see what our daily, weekly or monthly spend is looking at across all sites, or individual houses.  I can see what individual chefs are ordering and corrections can be made there and then.  I can work out costs per pupil and this level of precision enables us to better plan our menus.

“Pelican has adjusted the system for us too, so when we get to 50% of our monthly spend, the ordering area turns from green to amber. Then, when it gets to 85% or 90%, authority is required to make further orders.  Straight away, we have greater control. 

The school’s catering finance coordinator, Jakub Flantowicz, now has time to monitor food budgets as well as stock. Pi’s support for managing stock taking is much easier and has created time savings, freeing up Jakub’s time to consider different approaches to systems and processes. For example, the school is now looking to replace its chest freezers with upright freezers so the team can quickly visualise stock, enabling more proactive, faster decision-making.

“Previously, we had a frozen and ambient supplier that operated locally, and they were treated like a corner shop; rather than use our agreed supplier chefs would just call them up and they would drop the delivery round – sometimes they visit us three times a day with different orders!  By formalising our approach, we have a set delivery of agreed products, at agreed prices – and the roads around us are probably far quieter as a result!”

The Personal Touch

One aspect of working with Pelican that the team at Sedbergh has enjoyed is the expertise provided by the Pelican head office.  With a dedicated account manager always on hand to support the team, Toby feels assured that there is always someone on call to help with any issue that may arise.

“Michelle Parnham and Simon Gurney have been great.  They talk in plain English to us and we know exactly where we are.  We have quarterly reviews which are always excellent and, when needed, they will always come up to Sedbergh and work alongside us here – even though we are at other ends of the country, they just come up and crack on with whatever is needed.  We always feel that we get results from Simon and the wider team, and the support we receive for Pi is second to none.”

When reflecting on the results of the review, Toby is quick to celebrate the transformation that has happened: “When I consider the three original goals – to address our pricing, improve transparency through IT and work with experts who understand catering and our needs, this has all been achieved.  When I meet the COO each month it’s now a pleasure to discuss the catering, which is now rarely a major topic on the agenda!

“Prices are coming in well; I was very nervous about Brexit, however Pelican has given us steady support on that.  The Pi software has been a huge success and I’m sure there are many modules that we are yet to fully utilise. The people have been really supportive throughout – what is apparent is Pelican ‘gets’ catering. They’ve all worked in the industry with many having been chefs or working in similar hands-on roles; they just understand it from the inside-out and know what it’s like for us so, from that perspective, the team has moulded in very well.

 “In some ways, it would have been so easy to go to a contract caterer, and for them to take away the management of catering, however we haven’t felt there’s a need to go in that direction at all as a result of the support we have from Pelican. Instead, we are in complete control; it’s been a very pleasant journey so far – and long may it continue!”

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