As Operations Manager (Catering and Events) for Loughborough Endowed Schools, Joy Johnstone is responsible for feeding over 2,200 students and just shy of 700 staff every lunchtime. On top of this there are also more than 60 boarding pupils that are served breakfast, dinner and snacks, seven days a week.
Loughborough Endowed Schools consists of a Foundation of four schools – Loughborough Grammar School, which is for boys aged 10-18 years old and offers both day and boarding; Loughborough High School is for girls aged 11-18 years; Our Lady’s Convent School is co-educational for 4-11 year old pupils and for girls aged 11-18; and Fairfield Preparatory School is a co-educational school for children aged 3-11, including a Kindergarten.
There is also a specialist Music School, which serves the needs of all the Loughborough Endowed School pupils from pre-prep through to sixth form, as well as a Nursery that provides quality full-time care for children aged from 6 weeks to 4 years old.
It’s fair to say, with such wide-ranging age-groups, the catering for Loughborough Endowed Schools takes a great deal of coordination, not only managing the procurement of all food and beverage products, but in working with the catering teams across three main kitchens to coordinate menus, product selection, delivery and of course in ensuring it is all possible within a designated budget.
In this article Joy Johnstone explains what the secret is behind her impressive school lunch uptake of 89% of pupils.
‘I joined Loughborough Endowed Schools in the spring of 2013 and my role has always been focused on supply and management support. Quality of products is our primary focus and so my job is to ensure that all food products we receive are of the right quality, yet have a decent pricing structure behind them.
As well as managing the catering needs for over 2,200 pupils, I am also responsible for the catering requirements for our specialist Events business. Weddings, parties, meetings and events are hosted here in our range of fantastic buildings, so my role is very diverse, which I really enjoy.
The kitchens here are run as three separate businesses and identities: at Loughborough Grammar School we are feeding around 1,000 boys a day and the menu has been designed around them. It is a robust menu that suits their needs compared to our Preparatory school, which includes the Kindergarten, where the menu is geared towards a younger child. Here we run two meal sittings – the younger children eat their lunch first, followed by the girls at Loughborough High School – so we run a double-menu in order to deliver the right meal choices to the right children.
Our Lady’s Convent School has a different approach to the other three schools, as everyone eats together. There is more of a fixed menu as the kitchen facilities are smaller and therefore a set menu works better.”
How are the menus for each school and age group created?
“Each kitchen has its own Catering Manager and it is really down to them and their Head Chef to devise the right menu plan for their pupils. It is important that their own personalities are reflected in the menus, while seasonality is key across the school. The brilliant thing is that the Head Chefs all have restaurant backgrounds, and their focus on the ‘final plate’ doesn’t go unnoticed. Bringing a high street approach to the school environment can be beneficial. Children are far more used to eating diverse foods with their families and this approach works well for our speciality and event menus that I am involved with as well.
At Loughborough Grammar School, we always have one week where the Boarders choose the theme of the menu; one of the most popular requests is sushi! Our chef, Florence, is from Philippines and she loves getting creative with sushi dishes and the Boarders love it!”
How do you manage the daily tasks of running your kitchens?
“There are a huge number of factors that go into the daily running of our kitchens. The biggest problem is logistics; one of our kitchen sites is in the middle of the school and so has very limited access times. If you miss these times, deliveries either can’t get in, or can’t get out, so strict delivery times are very important to us. When you’re feeding as many as we do, delivery times must work.
On top of this, the quality of the products we order is a primary KPI for our suppliers. We want to make sure that everything we receive is good quality. We work closely with a procurement partner, Pelican, to help us manage our supplier relationships, product sourcing, pricing and to keep everything running smoothly.
Having a procurement partner on board is really important to me: they support me with tenders to make sure I am working with the suppliers who can provide Loughborough Endowed Schools with the products we need, at the most competitive prices and whilst meeting our tight delivery schedules. If there are any issues, I know my Pelican Account Manager, Nicola Davidson, is at the end of the phone at any time and the problem is sorted out during the same day or overnight. They add extra gravitas when dealing with our suppliers.
Only recently, Nicola has negotiated some great fixed prices for the next 12-18 months with our existing food wholesaler. Having price holds in place is important, particularly in today’s economy where commodity prices can quickly change. She’s also doing a lot of work with the products that we regularly buy. We are very habitual! For example, we like a certain type of ham. Nicola can see what we order, and if prices are set to increase she is able to source similar products at a cheaper price.
In the last year, we have saved over £5,000 alone by switching to alternative products. We are also set to save a further £7,000 by moving from a branded chemical supplier to an own brand range and a product trial is currently taking place to check the products match our needs. This is all managed by Nicola on our behalf, she really has become an integral part of my team.”
What are the value-added benefits of working with a procurement partner?
“One of the main reasons I work with Pelican is that they allow total flexibility. Firstly, if there is something special we would like to order that is outside of our agreed products list, I can speak with Nicola and within 24-hours, the new product is added to our contract list at the most competitive price. This is absolutely fundamental to how I run the operation.
We are located in the centre of Loughborough and as a large operation we like to buy from local suppliers wherever possible in order to support our local economy. We use a local butchers shop, for example, for all our meat. The butcher works with local farmers and they provide excellent local products. Our business is important to him, and the fact that we can work with local suppliers is a must. Some people think that working with a procurement company means you will be limited in choice, but this is not the case with Pelican”.
What other challenges do you and your team face?
“My bottom line has fluctuated with the national living wage. The fact that I am not having huge increases in commodity prices as everything is price-fixed means that at least I have a safety net in knowing that these are not going to change.
Another challenge was the introduction of the Allergen food-labelling ruling. We sourced help from our main food wholesaler and Pelican have been able to provide us with the break-down of allergens across our agreed product list, which has been very helpful. This would have taken a great deal of time if we had to undertake this project ourselves.”
So what’s next?
“The next step for me is to centralise all my procurement operations and replace my current systems with Pelican Pi. I’ve had my first introduction to the online system and can see it is going to be brilliant and so easy to use.
With Pi, I will have access to invoices and credits, be able to see ordering by site, chef, supplier, category and much more. The granular detail will give me an even closer view of everything. To have all our data on one system will also save me valuable time in producing my monthly reports for the finance department.”