Justin Johnson, CEO (left) Dan O'Hearn, VP, Partner (right)
Just about any food service operation-- assuming they want to be relevant to food enthusiasts-- should, in some way, utilize local produce. However, the realities of how to source locally in a cost effective and sustainable way are not quite as straight-forward. Especially when you get into the high volume purchasing of institutional food service operations.
On July 13th, 2018, Reinhart Foodservice (with distribution centers in Oak Creek, WI, Shawano, WI and La Crosse, WI) and Sustainable Kitchens, (headquartered in Milwaukee) came to terms on a partnership aimed specifically at utilizing Wisconsin meat and produce for all participating kitchens. The partnership is the result of a project contracted between Sustainable Kitchens and the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources to implement healthy, scratch food into the congregate senior dining sites and home-delivered meal hubs throughout 70 Wisconsin counties and 11 tribes.
Seeing an opportunity for up to 505 senior dining sites to take advantage of the group purchasing programs offered by large scale distributors, SK founder, Justin Johnson, wondered if that kind of buying power could entice these distributors to highlight more local foods and make them more readily available-- thus enabling farmers to grow food for a reliable end user.
SK has completed two county projects in Eau Claire and Washburn Counties since July 2017 and is midway through a project in Portage County with efforts focused at Lincoln Center in Steven's Point. The state-wide effort is structured to give all participating counties a food-service-operations start-up kit that will be self-implemented and lay the foundation for sustainable, scratch cooking. Among the highlights of this starter kit are fully vetted and scaled recipes as well as a one-of-a-kind “menu creator” that will enable nutrition directors to plug menu items into a monthly-rotation template, making the challenge of meeting weekly nutritional requirements much more user-friendly.
Sustainable Kitchens VP, Dan O'Hearn said, "We are excited about this partnership with Reinhart given their support of our mission, and the fact that they are a Wisconsin-based company."
Additionally, SK's decision to partner with Reinhart was made due to the regional distributor's extensive efforts to support local farms and their partnership with Viroqua-based local food broker, Fifth Season. "Everyone talks about local sourcing and everyone wants to do it. But, in so many ways, the system we have makes it impractical at best-- impossible at worst. This partnership is about supporting farmers efforts to confidently produce food that will be utilized consistently. Local sourcing does not work when farmers and buyers are not working together." said Johnson
The program will begin to roll-out across the state to participating counties in October.