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Public sector food procurement

Procurement of food in the public sector is an area where the government is looking for progress, both in terms of efficiencies and sustainability. The public sector must lead by example on this and Defra is looking into how this can be achieved.

The government is committed to ensuring food procured by Government Departments, and eventually the whole public sector, meets British standards of production or their equivalent, wherever this can be achieved without increasing overall costs.

Sustainable procurement

A set of sustainability criteria for public sector food procurement and catering services has been developed in consultation with public sector procurers, industry and sustainability NGOs. These cover:

  • Energy use
  • Waste management
  • Higher level environmental standards
  • Sustainably sourced fish
  • Seasonal produce
  • Fairly traded produce
  • Higher animal welfare standards
  • Ensuring small businesses have the opportunity to access contracts

These criteria have been the basis for Defra’s input into the initiatives below:

Government Buying Standards:  sustainable product specifications which are mandatory for central government departments. To date these have not covered food. Work is underway to assess whether it would be possible to identify appropriate food based Government Buying Standards. 

Collaborative Food Procurement Programme: led by the Office of Government Commerce, aims of increasing efficiencies in the public procurement of food.

Green Public Procurement (GPP): developed by the EU Commission. ‘Food and Catering’ is an important category under GPP which is a component of the EU’s Sustainable Consumption and Production Action Plan. The work  on developing Government Buying Standards is including the GPP.

Training for Sustainable Food Procurement: work is underway to develop a specific sustainable food based training module for public sector food procurers.

Facts and figures

The public sector is a significant buyer of food, around £2 billion per year. There is potential to influence demand for healthier and more environmentally sustainable food products both directly and indirectly.

Annual estimated spend on food and food services:

  • Schools: £1 billion (£350 million on ingredients)
  • Higher education and further education: between £350m and £500m on food ingredients
  • NHS: £300 million on food ingredients and £500 million on catering overall
  • Armed Forces: £135 million on food and food delivery
  • National Offender Management Service: covering 128 public sector prisons: £54 million on food

Page published: 3 October 2010