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Texas district keeps meal prices stable despite rising food costs

Sponsored: Sodexo

Sodexo improves management and participation in food service program at Azle ISD

At a time when fast-rising food costs are forcing many districts to raise school lunch prices, better food-service management has helped the Azle Independent School District keep meal prices stable.

Since the summer of 2007, when Azle ISD hired Sodexo, Inc., to manage the food service program for its 10 schools, the district has reaped benefits of better financial management, improved staff morale and greater participation in the meal program in the 5,600-student district. Azle ISD Director of Administration Ray Ivey credits the Sodexo organization and the work of David Smith, the Sodexo employee who works onsite as the district’s food service administrator, for a management strategy that allows the district to absorb the costs of higher food prices.

"Could we do it alone as
effectively as we can with
Sodexo? The answer is no."

“We are able to do other things to adjust so we don’t have to lay higher food costs on the backs of our clients—the children of this district and the families of this community,” Ivey says. “When you bring in a partner like Sodexo, they bring to the table an ability to analyze and consider the best strategies, and they provide someone to implement them here at the local level. Could we do it alone as effectively as we can with Sodexo? The answer is no.”

The benefits, Ivey says, have been remarkable, with improvements in pricing, budgeting, inventory control and marketing.

Azle ISD gets better prices on food because Sodexo can purchase for the district in conjunction with its other clients in Texas. Beyond that, Sodexo aggressively shops for the best prices for different products among various school purchasing cooperatives throughout the state. By switching to a different coop, for example, the district saved 5 cents on each carton of milk it purchased.

Kitchen managers throughout the district now manage budgets and inventory much more effectively. They know exactly how much they can spend on a monthly basis, and they order only what’s needed to support the menu.

“Pride is up and morale is up among the managers and the staff,” Ivey says. “What David is doing is coaching people, motivating them and making them feel he’s on the team with them.”

At the same time that Sodexo has helped Azle ISD improve management of the food service program, the company has also helped the district sell more meals.

“Participation has increased across the board,” Ivey says.

The district served 626,118 lunch meals in 2008, an increase of 28 percent. Overall participation in the lunch program increased to 62 percent in 2008, up from 48 percent a year earlier. Menus are attractive, serving areas are brighter, and students and teachers have more choices, such as the addition of a salad bar.

When it was considering firms to manage the food service program, leaders of the Azle ISD were impressed by Sodexo’s commitment to delivering on its promises.

“Sodexo was confident enough to guarantee us certain things and they said ‘if we don’t meet these, we’ll pay the difference,’” Ivey says.