Nourish Newsletter: Healthcare Food Purchasing – Going Beyond Local to Talk About Sustainability

Curating value through local and sustainable food supply chains

Introduction to Summer 2017 Nourish e-newsletter by the Nourish Team and Wendy Smith, Contract Specialist, MEALsource and Nourish Advisor

We’ve come a long way in championing local food in Canada. Five years ago, it was difficult to imagine healthcare institutions ever making local procurement a priority. Today, local food is finding its way into institutional food culture and we see an increasing number of hospitals asking distributors for local and sustainable food. While these successes should be celebrated, it is also time for us to evolve the growing passion for local food into a bigger conversation about healthcare’s responsibility for supporting a flourishing and sustainable food system that generates health. With Nourish, we want to explore more deeply the question: what is the added value when we purchase locally and sustainably in healthcare? 

To begin, we need to unpack what value-based procurement is. The current understanding of best value in healthcare food purchasing is still framed as best value for lowest cost. When suppliers compete for work by offering lowest price, they are incentivized to minimize their operational costs to be competitive in bids for request for proposals (RFP).

“Best value should not simply be limited to lowest price, but should include community, social and environmental benefits as well.

It’s important to remember that, being primarily funded as public institutions, healthcare facilities should have an accountability for seeking best value for public dollars in the broadest sense. Also healthcare institutions are the customers, and can reclaim market power and positively influence the supply chain by demanding what they determine as best value. This admittedly will require work and passionate people working in food service and procurement to collaboratively redefine and articulate what best value is. Best value should not simply be limited to lowest price, but should include community, social and environmental benefits as well. It means knowing what we want, asking for it, and measuring it in our contracts.

Six months into the Nourish program, one of the needs that we have seen emerging is for the development of a framework for sustainable procurement, which includes a set of evaluative measures to support institutions around measuring community, social, economic and environmental benefits. This means going deeper into requests for local, and specifying the values that underlay it. For example, what if the minimum standards we set in contracts allowed buyers to evaluate the proposals based on measures such as the carbon footprint, biodiversity, increase of local jobs, decrease in food and packaging waste, and addressing of the cultural needs of the community that the hospital serves?

This Summer 2017 Nourish e-newsletter features stories of  Nourish innovators who are exploring and extending the definition of “best value” through their work across Canada. Dan Munshaw writes about the environmental and community benefits of strategic procurement for the City of Thunder Bay and how he’s modelling ways in which public institutions can reclaim ownership and power in supply chains when they demand local food. Our four innovators from Quebec, Anne Gignac, Claire Potvin, Josée Lavoie and Annie Marquez, in collaboration with Nourish advisor Carole Saint-Pierre, also share how healthcare institutions in Quebec are defining sustainability in food purchasing.

Redefining the evaluation metrics in RFP is just one of the tangible leverage points that institutions can harness in order to curate for better value. For us, this means to take up opportunities to create the conditions for supply chains to develop better products for healthcare institutions and the planet. For example, by making purchasing choices which acknowledge the importance of biodiversity for planetary sustainability, healthcare stakeholders. Choosing to buy from diversified and sustainable producers recognizes that large scale industrial agriculture, with its focus on monocultures, compromises the long-term resilience of food systems. We have to extend the time horizon within which healthcare institutions understand the value of sustainable food purchasing to be able to protect the food system for the future.

Some of the other Nourish innovators are expanding the ways in which they are broadening the value constellation of food and health. On the naturally food abundant islands of Haida Gwaii, on the Northwest coast of British Columbia, “local” food is everywhere, but hospitals primarily source food which is shipped in pallets from the mainland. Innovator Shelly Crack with her colleague, traditional Haida knowledge keeper Jenny Cross, are exploring opportunities to work with local and traditional harvesters to serve more culturally nourishing foods to the patients in 2 island hospitals. In Ontario, Travis Durham is partnering with a local beekeeper to set up beehives at the long-term care home where he is the Food & Nutrition Manager. Through his work, he’s connecting the dots between a positive resident experience and sustaining pollinators which are key in building sustainable food systems.

“Food service and procurement is an exciting space: by influencing what happens within its walls, healthcare institutions can positively impact what goes on beyond its walls.

In this issue, Nourish innovators and contributors share their experiences, successes and failures to showcase the opportunities around moving away from an extractive system where lowest price for food is the defining metric. The goal is not to have these projects depend on one innovator or champion, but to have the new tools and practices we collectively develop become adopted as practice.  We see a future where the mission and values of sustainable food for health are embedded in the organizational culture and policies of healthcare across Canada.

Food service and procurement is an exciting space: by influencing what happens within its walls, healthcare institutions can positively impact what goes on beyond its walls. The purchasing power of healthcare sector does have an impact, and we are excited to explore how we can shift it from extracting value to creating value for the future of food in healthcare.


Looking for further information and tools to help you explore more local and sustainable food procurement by health care institutions?  All of these resources can be found in the Resources section of  along with other reports, tools, and information compiled by the Nourish team and innovators.

Getting more of what you want: More Powerful Procurement, Webinar recording

This Nourish webinar recording explores definitions, strategies and tools for more strategic procurement.

What’s behind the trend of local food?

To meet the growing demand for more local food on institutional menus it’s important to start with understanding what’s behind the trend – why do people seek out local food? Check out this article in Food & Nutrition Magazine.

Farm to Institution: The power of public sector purchasing

This case study from Ontario’s Greenbelt Fund explores how a public sector group purchasing organization leveraged its buying power to enable a local and sustainable cattle-processor to break into the institutional food service market.

Purchasing Power: 10 Lessons Learned on Getting More Local, Sustainable, and Delicious Food in Schools, Hospitals and Campuses

This report does a deep dive into the experiences of eight institutional food projects across Canada from 2014-2016 and profiles what we’ve learned about how to shift institutional food purchasing to sustainability–from defining local, to leveraging contracts, to building food cultures, to policy change–and identifies opportunities for scaling this work.

Farm Fresh Health Care Project How-to Guide

This How-To Guide, produced by Health Care Without Harm and Community Alliance with Family Farmers, presents insights from the Farm Fresh Healthcare Project, launched by a team of hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area to increase sourcing of local and organic produce from family farmers.