School canteens: a local and quality supply, is this possible?

The new Egalim Law in France requires that by January 2022 “meals served in collective canteens in all establishments entrusted with a public service mission must include 50% quality and sustainable products, including at least 20% organic products” . In addition, the territories are increasingly waiting for a return to proximity circuits and the promotion of local products. Thus, in 2020, Alcimed supported the French Grand Est Region in structuring a local supply for the canteens of its high schools. Thanks to the collaboration of two buying groups in charge of supplying the schools in their respective sector, this study has underlined several preconceived ideas on the feasibility of local quality supply. At Alcimed, we are keen to share our experiences and, in this case, to unveil different ways to promote proximity circuits and compliance with the requirements of the Egalim law.  Here is an overview of these ideas and a few proposed actions to allow our canteens to offer a variety of high quality seasonal products coming from a close area… In a nutshell, to build the canteen of tomorrow!

Common belief N°1:  Mobilizing local players to structure proximity circuits solely relies on a strong political support.

  • The political will and support of local elected officials are of course necessary but not sufficient to structure proximity circuits. The success of such an undertaking is multifactorial. It depends on the availability of a local food supply but also on the motivation and structuring of a group of actors on the supply value chain in its whole. Both upstream (producers, processors, distributors) and downstream (managers, heads of establishments, chefs) must have an interest and get involved, but also simply exist! This requires human and financial resources (to get together, to collectively identify levers of action specific to each sector and each territory and to move forward).

Common belief N°2: The good will of those who write the specifications is enough to ensure a 100% local supply.

  • A good knowledge of the drafting rules allows to adapt the specifications to the local offer as well as possible.
  • The “local” nature of a product does not meet an official definition and cannot be a selection criterion in a public contract. The products included in Egalim’s 50% count are organic products, under quality signs (protected designation of origin (PDO), protected geographical indication (PGI), red label), certified high environmental value or farm products regulated by decree (cheeses, eggs, poultry). There is therefore no mention of local sourcing in the law.
  • The rules for writing contracts are strict, framed by the Public Procurement Code: for example, it is forbidden to write that one wishes to be supplied with “chicken produced or slaughtered in the region”!
  • The insertion of criteria favoring local companies, such as short delivery times, is possible.
  • Contact with local players upstream of the markets is both possible and desirable. This sourcing allows to know the actors and their constraints.

Common belief N°3: If it’s forbidden to include selection criterion related to geographical location, then it is impossible for local producers to easily access public markets in the face of competition from foreign products.

  • It is possible to adapt the duration of its market to the requirements of each sector. For example, multi-year markets will be more favorable to the vegetable sectors, to which they give more visibility and thus make it possible to manage the organization of crops upstream.
  • Playing on allotment can enable local producers to meet specifications even if they can only supply part of the products. For example, allotment can be made by certification (organic, red label, conventional, etc.), by category (fresh vegetables, beef, etc.) or by range (fresh, frozen, cut, etc.), while taking into account the workload for group managers.
  • The weighting of the selection criteria is decisive and allows adaptation to the local offer. While price remains an important factor, other aspects may counterbalance it in the search for the best bid, such as organoleptic and taste quality, production method or environmental performance of the production.
  • Using the preferential right, provided for in the Public Procurement Code, allows for equal prices or equivalent bids to award the contract to a workers’ cooperative production company, a producers’ group, or a craftsman.

Common belief n°4: Organic products/official signs of quality are more expensive and do not meet the budgetary limitations of school restaurants.

Sourcing products with different certifications (AB, HVE, Label Rouge…), substituting the “classic” pieces of meat used in certain recipes with cheaper pieces, benefiting from discounts on certain excess products are tips for balancing costs according to the constraints of each territory and its local productions.

  • Sourcing products with different certifications (AB, HVE, Label Rouge…), substituting the “classic” pieces of meat used in certain recipes with cheaper pieces, benefiting from discounts on certain excess products are several useful ways to balance cost according to the constraints of each territory and its local productions.
  • Reducing food waste is an important way to generate savings, to be reinvested in products with official quality labels: promoting self-service for starters, adapting the portion served according to the guest or raising awareness among students are various ways to get involved in this fight against waste.
  • Products such as meat or fresh vegetables can be processed in the kitchen (cutting, cooking, etc.) without any real overload, with the aim of generating cost savings per portion: by letting students choose the quantities or pieces, we can make the most of the whole chicken rather than just the legs, we can reduce the quantities for better quality.
  • Meal costs can be balanced on a weekly basis, allowing for the inclusion of vegetarian alternatives, seasonal meals, etc.

Common belief N°5: Local actors often produce small volumes which prevents from properly organizing canteens’ local supply.

  • Inter-professions and local networks are often the driving force in structuring logistics and bringing together producers, manufacturers and suppliers. Numerous initiatives already exist. On the other side of the chain, a buying group for school canteen also help to ensure logistics, so that producers are not alone when faced with delivery or preparation challenges.
  • Many existing logistics channels can be mobilized and made more sensitive to the origin of their sourcing. On the other hand, we notice that communication and collaboration between the actors are too often under-exploited.

These few ideas for action demonstrate that local authorities and foodservice operators can quickly take the first step towards local and responsible sourcing. There would therefore be as many different specifications as there are production areas. The best solution to date remains dialogue between the different people involved in the system. Let’s bring them all together around the table!


About the authors
Elsa, Project Manager and Roxane, Consultant, in Alcimed’s Public Policy’s team in France

Do you have an exploration project?
Our explorers are ready to discuss it with you

Contact our explorers >