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In this article, Greg Hall, Financial Controller of Balhousie share his best practice on how food and beverage procurement is managed across its 25 homes – to ensure the right products are being sourced and delivered, at the right time, for the right price, to provide the highest standards of food and beverages across all of its care homes. 

About Balhousie Care Group

This year the Balhousie Care Group is celebrating its 25th anniversary. In that time it has become one of the largest care home groups in Scotland, with 25 high-quality care homes located across the country which provide a range of residential, respite, palliative, nursing and specialist care services. This includes supporting those living with dementia, physical disabilities and Huntington’s disease.

In all, Balhousie supports 900 residents in its homes and employs over 1200 people and is 100% focused on delivering person-centred care to the people that live in its homes. As such, it has developed a reputation as being one of the premier care home providers in Scotland.

Delivering person-centred care is about treating residents as individuals and appreciating that everyone is unique. The team takes the time to get to know residents: what they like, dislike, their care needs and requirements. A major part of this includes food and drinks, as meal times are often one of the most important social occasions for residents, and therefore, some of the most enjoyable.

We spoke to Greg Hall, Financial Controller of Balhousie to understand how food and beverage procurement is managed across its 25 homes to ensure the right products are being sourced and delivered, at the right time, for the right price, to provide the highest standards of food and beverages across all of its care homes:

Greg Hall: “Many of our residents have special dietary requirements due to medical issues or allergies. Our chefs understand the importance of catering for specific needs, as well as ensuring they are still providing nutritional value and tasty options to residents.

We get to know our residents – what their likes and dislikes are, favourite foods and drinks – the more you know about a person, the better you can engage with and deliver a service that is tailored to their needs.

Providing variety, quality and most importantly flavour, is vital; we take nutrition seriously and appreciate that food is a source of great joy for many, therefore the meals we serve must not only be nutritious but also delicious.

From an operational and financial point of view, managing the purchasing of all food and beverages for 25 homes is no small feat. I joined the group around three years ago and was keen to work with the teams in the homes to find a way of centralising the procurement process enabling us to better manage the whole process, as well as have more detailed insight into the purchasing across all homes.

It was important to identify a way of being able to easily track product spend, site spend, spend by supplier, by product type and more, but without tying up the team here at Balhousie.

Additionally, with a budget in excess of £1.1m and a volatile food market, we were looking for support in managing costs, without compromising on quality, choice or service delivery from our suppliers.

In early 2016, Balhousie decided to go to the market place to source help from an external organisation. One of the companies was Pelican Procurement Services. 

It was clear when speaking with Kevin Timoney, Client Development Manager at Pelican that he had the expertise of the food markets and a very good understanding of what chefs needed within the care home sector. We discussed ways in which purchasing could be centralised, savings created and efficiencies realised, by putting the right systems and processes in place to bring everything together.

From our point of view, it was important to choose a partner with the right approach and professionalism; supported by effective systems. We felt that Pelican had the same values and professional approach as Balhousie, with a similar heritage – and that we could work with them.

Kevin then got to work to really get under the skin of our organisation – visiting every home to understand what they were doing, talking to the chefs, reviewing the rotational menus and individual recipes, understanding the current supplier relationships and looking at the internal financial management. He had empathy with the chefs and it was clear that he fully understood the market in which we operated.

After the initial fact-finding mission, Kevin presented us with possible solutions to consider. Part of the value proposition from Pelican was having strong relationships with the key players in the Scottish market place and having a totally independent perspective on suppliers, and consequently, their impartial position in the market enabled them to be objective in regards to their client needs.

Visibility is key for the business; in terms of what is being ordered by each home and the cost implications. So, for this reason, we decided to use a centralised cloud-based system, Pelican Pi, to manage the supplier purchasing process.”

Improving operational efficiencies

“As the Pelican Pi system receives live data directly from suppliers, we now have real time data insights. A bespoke ‘spend per resident’ module has also been created, which automatically calculates spend per resident on a tracker, leading to better visibility of where the budget is being spent.

Additionally, there are bespoke reports that break down spend by week, month, home, category etc. This gives us a far better understanding of what’s happening, allowing us to look at trends and address issues immediately.

With one centralised bill from Pelican, it is all very seamless – allowing access to supplier information 24/7.”

Reducing purchasing cost

“As the food market has been very volatile over the last year we realised that it would be good to go to the market not only to review costs but to put measures in place to protect ourselves from such instabilities. We chose to go to tender and with Pelican’s experience in this area, they have assisted us through all stages of the process.

Following the tender, Pelican identified initial savings of around 13% for our dry goods, fruit and vegetables, meat, fresh foods and dairy. We initially had price holds in place, and since the initial switch we have seen a market increase of around 7%, reducing savings, however, these savings are still significant and if we hadn’t gone down the Pelican route we would have been struggling to understand the market dynamics, and exposed to significant increases.

A few months ago there was a significant increase in the market price of salmon – around 40%; Pelican was able to negotiate different products for us and suggest appropriate substitutes at prices similar to what we had been originally paying.

Pelican does not just analyse price, but also nutritional elements to make sure that the right alternatives are provided which is key to the long term success of delivering what we need in a value for money environment.

Part of what Pelican brings to the Partnership is an understanding of the movements in the market and they are there to manage this for us, while also helping us to police our pricing agreements.

Over the last year, we have seen a real turn around. We now have complete visibility of what’s happening at each home, down to spend per resident. We can see the performance at homes and quickly identify any issues. Everyone here at Balhousie and Pelican is working well together, driving change to ensure that the main focus around food delivery is based on each individual resident and their care needs.

From the chefs’ point of view, they understand what they can order but are not restricted. We’re also looking at menu development so chefs understand what an individual meal portion costs and to help them better appreciate how to manage it. Added to this is nutritional and allergen information which is stored within the Pelican Pi system, which is really valuable for our chefs and it helps us comply with the Allergen Legislation.

As a group, it’s been an extremely worthwhile exercise. Working with an external food procurement expert has given us greater insight into the food markets so we can plan ahead, as well as having improved internal operations to manage the way we buy our products and assess nutrition.

Care homes are typically limited in such resources and so working with Pelican represents great value not just financially but in the way they demonstrate professionalism, impartiality and transparency in everything that they do.

As well as maximising financial savings, Pelican is not afraid to recommend change when it is needed. They have introduced a more methodical approach, replacing many of our previously paper-based reporting methods and partner us as we strive to achieve our objectives.

For us, the ethos and values of Pelican represented by Kevin got him through the door in the first place and having the local support of the team on the ground has been invaluable. The Pelican Pi system then pulls everything together to provide us with a very tight ship.

The global food market is so volatile – and is likely to be so for the foreseeable future. Pelican provides expertise and insight for us to help us manage the changes.

For me personally, it has been great support – if there are supplier issues, I just call Pelican and they resolve it. If chefs have questions, Pelican are there to assist in dealing with them. They also are first at seeing new, fresh ideas in the market place, as they work across sectors.

For anyone else facing the onerous task of reviewing suppliers and pricing, I would talk to Pelican. They remove the hassle of tenders, supplier agreements and day to day management. Plus their online systems deliver visibility and reporting that make life a lot easier.

You have to trust a partner like this implicitly, as a lot of spends is going their way, and with Pelican I do.

At Balhousie, we work as a team to collectively deliver the very best care we can to each and every resident – everyone across the business plays a part. From the care teams, managers, operations, and now Pelican is part of that picture too.”

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