Nadine currently works with 1FS Schools, providing in-depth product information and bid collaboration software to school co-ops, districts and directors across the country. She is also a consultant for companies that want to succeed in the K-12 segment along with School Food Service departments to enhance their operations. She is an experienced trainer in her own right and also conducts training for The Institute of Child Nutrition. She graciously spoke with Health-e Pro to discuss her experience in the school nutrition industry and answer some questions about bids and procurement in advance of her March 28th webinar.
How did you end up in child nutrition?
After graduating from 2-year college, my godmother convinced me it would be the best career for a newly married person who wanted to have children. At that time, I started as a cafeteria manager and we got the summers off, so why not?
I really fell in love with it. I loved interacting with the kids on a regular basis. I did and still love to cook. We were hands-on managers at Buffalo City at the time, and I fell in love with the industry. Back in the day, we did 100% scratch cooking. (We’ll get back to that later!)
How did you learn about procurement?
I learned about procurement through the years working in the cafeteria. After I left Buffalo City, I became the food service director in a small district. When you’re in a smaller district, a director has to be the jack-of-all-trades. I was calling other directors: “How do you do this in your district?” When I came to the industry side, it became professional development for me, in terms of becoming a trainer for the Institute of Child Nutrition. Even though when I do a procurement workshop, I always say we could be in the jail for things we did in the 90’s that we thought we were doing correctly. That’s how much awareness for regulations has changed.
What has changed with the new procurement regulations?
There haven’t been a lot of changes except that it’s brought procurement to the forefront, pieces of the law that districts didn’t know were there, like a written procurement plan. That’s something I would guess nobody ever knew about. And now it’s part of the Administrative Review. But the basics of procurement have not changed; it’s just a matter of the awareness level of them.
What do you see as the top bidding error now that you work for manufacturers?
Poorly written specs, which is why we’re starting there in the webinar. It’s not so much an error, per se, it just leads to uncertainties and issues as you go forward with contracts. Another shortcoming we see is poor forecasting on behalf of districts.
Why are estimated quantities so important to manufacturers? What do they do with the numbers?
Estimated quantities are as important to manufacturers because it tells them what they need to purchase in order to put out the final product they’re making. So if it’s a pizza, for example, they’re going to base their ingredient purchases based on the number of cases they have to produce in order to meet the bids out there. If estimates they receive are off base, then their purchasing and production is going to be off base as well.
What was something you thought you were doing right in procurement as a director that you later found a better way of doing?
I found that being a part of a co-op wasn’t always the best thing, even for the small-ish district that I was. At the time, I wasn’t aware of the Small Purchase Method of purchasing that is out there, even though it was out there at the time.
Can you recommend some resources to help prepare for the new reviews?
Yes, actually. Here are quite a few.
From The Institute on Child Nutrition:
- An older version of the Procurement course, still with good information.
- The most recent Procurement lessons are at the end of this list.
From the School Nutrition Association:
- Improving Procurement
- How to get the responses you want
- Developing Effective Bids
- Better Produce Specs
What would you like webinar attendees to know by the end of this webinar?
I’d like them to have answers to these questions: Have you ever been delivered something that met your spec but wasn’t really what you thought you ordered? Why is an individual spec so important?
Now, for an interesting look into some of Nadine’s history–which we found particularly fascinating–read on:
When I started in child nutrition, most of the buildings in Buffalo City had been built from 1920-1940, and that’s when most kids went home for lunches. When I was managing the kitchen there, most the students were bussed. We were doing scratch cooking in kitchens that were built to serve far fewer students. Kitchens and lunch rooms were meant to house 50 kids–but we had 500 kids. Spaghetti sauces, chili, tacos, all of it was done from scratch. Depending on how much space you had, many of the kitchens were making their own rolls and hamburger patties from scratch.
When we had to do spaghetti and meat sauce on a menu, it was like a three-day process: you browned the meat in the oven because there wasn’t range space; you’d cook the sauce in the oven on another day; then combine them and re-heat on the third day when you cooked the pasta on the stove–batch by batch–so it was a three-day process to do the spaghetti and meat sauce. It had more to do with lack of equipment and storage space for anything else. We just did it! Nobody said we couldn’t put it on the menu; we just got it done!
I quickly realized, moving from one school to another, some menu combinations you couldn’t do back-to-back because of oven space or lack of a walk-in refrigerator, etc. Space dictated a lot of when you could serve certain items. But it was fun! We made it work, and overcoming all of those challenges and constraints was very rewarding. Being a food service director was probably the most fulfilling job I ever had. I’m still passionate about the whole thing.
Thank you to Nadine Doetterl for a fascinating discussion covering the gamut from scratch cooking to bids and procurement! We look forward to the webinar on March 28.