An army marches on its stomach, and so do governments.

Iowa procurement manager Karl Wendt says he is saving money and achieving other benefits by using a cooperative contract with Premier’s Foodservice Program, offered by U.S. Communities. Wendt serves as the purchasing manager of the Iowa Department of Administrative Services's (DAS) Central Procurement & Fleet Services Enterprise

“It allows us to leverage the buying power of U.S. Communities and Premier to get better pricing than we can get on our own for many items.” Wendt says. “Historically we have relied on local and regional providers who don’t have this buying power.”

Small state agencies also benefit from the increased purchasing clout, Wendt adds. “Utilizing a cooperative contract allows the smallest of agencies to take advantage of the buying power of a large organization.”

The contract is a time-saver, also. Iowa state agencies “use the contract as a prime vendor so that we don’t have to solicit quotes/bids for every food item,” Wendt says. He adds that Premier Foodservice has an in-state warehouse that helps with delivery times for in-stock items.

“They dedicate space in their warehouse for our commonly used products. Other providers have not done this for us,” Wendt told GPN. He says that as a result, state agencies don’t have to wait for items to be shipped from other locations.

Wendt says Premier is a sizable provider, so they have the capability to source hard-to-find items. The cooperative contract serves as a backup to local providers when a specific product is unavailable from the program’s vendors.

The Premier Foodservice Program has served government agencies for 15 years. Premier was awarded a competitively-bid contract through lead public agency North Carolina State University that provides U.S. Communities participants with access to Premier's foodservice solutions. The program delivers over 280 discounted manufacturer agreements from more than 90 product categories. Dairy, fresh produce, all types of groceries and beverages are part of the package.  Distribution of these agreements is driven by US Foods, a contractual partner of Premier.

Prior to choosing U.S. Communities and the Premier foodservice program, Iowa used an RFP process.

“There are many cooperatives and contracts available to us,” Wendt says.  “Through this process, Premier demonstrated to be the best fit for our needs.”

A variety of government entities rely on the Premier-US Foods cooperative contract, says Jon Garrett, vice president of Premier REACH at Charlotte, N.C.-based Premier. Garrett says Iowa’s parks and recreation departments and the state’s homes and state program services also have adopted the Premier contract. He states that many participating agencies including K-12 schools, early child-care and early learning entities and after-school foodservice programs have found similar success utilizing the foodservice program upon being informed of the cooperative contract’s value.

The Premier contract covers “a tremendous amount of products” that can help with a complicated bid category like food, says Garrett. He states that this contract helps participating agencies “in categories that are very comprehensive with various line item manufacturer discounts, in a variety of different programs, and it usually requires significant staff and staff time to bid out those commodities.”

Garrett advises public buyers and agencies to keep an open mind. “Don’t get caught up in what your agency has always done,” he says. “Take a new look at the buying process.”

He also urges agency personnel to do their due diligence to ensure that the contract is right for that agency. Both Premier and US Foods have staff committed to help agencies in performing an accurate pricing analysis.

Garrett predicts that the cooperative marketplace will continue to expand in 2016. “As states and most government agencies have endured staff and budget challenges and budget constraints, they are all looking for easier ways of doing things and finding ways to save money,” he says.

Harold Fowler, national director for the Premier Foodservice program through U.S. Communities, says the cooperative contract can save staff time. Fowler works directly at the corporate level for US Foods, the sole-source food provider in the program.

“The piggybacking offers the opportunity to save all the labor intensity related to a bid process that governments are required to abide by,” he says.

Fowler also advises government buyers to consider the portfolio of value-added services that are free to customers through the cooperative pact. He says those offerings can enhance revenue generation, program efficiency and system management. For example, services under the contract can aid foodservice directors as they plan menus.

The program also provides information on nutritional guidelines that are required both by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies.

The U.S. Communities Premier Foodservice Program Contract has been extended through June 30, 2017. There is an option to renew for one additional one-year period.

Michael Keating is Senior Editor at Government Product News, an American City & County sister brand.

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