When suppliers think of putting their fresh produce onto the UK marketplace, how many of them think simply about supermarkets? Probably most. There are plenty of other routes to Britons’ stomachs though including a small but important opportunity in the School Fruit & Vegetable Scheme (SFVS) in England, which puts fresh-produce into tiny hands. Produce Business UK runs through a few key facts
How it all began
SFVS was set up as one aspect of the 5 A Day programme with the aim of increasing children’s consumption of fruit and vegetables and has become the biggest programme to support children’s nutrition since the introduction of school milk back in 1946.
It was one of three initiatives run as part of the government’s Healthy Food Scheme and was introduced after the NHS Plan, launched in 2000, included a commitment to implement a national fruit and vegetable scheme by 2004. It was piloted in England in 2000 and 2001 among 500 schools.
Since 2004, SFVS is funded by the Department of Health (DoH) to the tune of £40 million after initial funding from the Big Lottery Fund backed the region-by-region roll out.
It sees all Key Stage 1 children (four-to-seven years old) in 16,333 schools in England receive the free portion of fresh produce over the school term. That is a total of 2,281,476 pupils. It operates for 190 school days, so 433 million portions were served in the last school year.
Products included in the scheme
The core products are apples, pears, bananas, carrots, cherry tomatoes and easy-peel citrus. Then throughout the year the scheme also includes raisins – usually for use on the first day back after a school holiday – sugarsnap peas, strawberries, tomatoes.
Some 40% of the produce is grown in the UK.
How it is organised
NHS Supply Chain, which is operated by DHL Exel Supply Chain Ltd, is master contractor and manages supply of the fresh produce destined for the scheme on behalf of the DoH.
It appoints, through competitive framework agreements, around 20 suppliers and distributors of produce to serve the whole of England.
The contracts established under these frameworks are all in line with EU public procurement directives and are for specified time periods and for named commodities, or lots.
The contractors are typically small-and-medium-sized businesses.
Companies supplying the scheme
These include Capespan, Fresh Direct, Minor Weir & Willis, SH Pratt & Co, GW Price and Total Produce.
How to ender for a contract
Each framework agreement runs for a period of four years.
The procurement calendar identifies all forthcoming tender opportunities for NHS Supply Chain contracts (including both new and renewed contracts) prior to their publication on the Tenders Electronic Daily website where suppliers are able to register and respond to the tenders.
The current framework expires in April 2016 and the launch date for the new contracts and re-tendering process is August 27 this year.
Applications are online and interested suppliers should follow the guidance document and register first.
There is also information on the opportunities on the NHS Supply Chain website.
What the contracts are for
Previously there have had two tenders – one for supply and one for distribution and they both run concurrently. This time around, only one tender will be published incorporating both aspects as different lots.
Changes on the horizon
The scheme is considering offering some new products – grapes, sweet-bite mini-capsicum peppers and possibly mini-cucumbers.
What happens in schools
Feedback from teachers shows that they find that distributing the fruit in class groups helps to encourage a sharing, calm, social time.
It also allows them to incorporate the scheme into teaching and learning.
All the fruit and vegetables are washed before they are handed out, which is usually just before the mid-morning break in individual class groups.
SFVS produce is not handed out at lunchtime, ensuring that the fruit and vegetables supplied are not simply replacing the fruit and vegetables that might have been eaten at lunchtime anyway.
Some primary schools and education authorities are keen to keep up the habit of fresh-produce consumption and are funding their own extension of the scheme into the seven-11 year-old age group using the same suppliers as the SFVS.
Evaluating the scheme
Evaluations were carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research and published in 2005, 2007 and 2010.
Broadly, the evaluations concluded that:
•universal provision under the scheme encourages children to try new fruit and vegetables that they might otherwise not have tried;
• compared to measures taken in 2004 children who received the SFVS in 2008 eat more fruit and vegetables than those who did not;
• given the differences in consumption patterns at school and home, the effects of school-based interventions do not carry over into the home environment
• positive changes to healthy eating habits at school the researchers identified, may be associated with other aspects of the 5 A Day programme, in particular the introduction of school food standards.
What the fresh-produce sector thinks
Nigel Jenney chief executive of the Fresh Produce Consortium says: “We support the NHS with advice and guidance and we talk to the DoH to encourage government to extend the scheme further.
“We maintain a positive relationship with the department and about 10 years ago, took part in the evaluation against the terms set by the DoH.
“The value to the trade of the scheme is twofold; it gives encouragement to young children to get into the fresh-produce-eating habit early and it gives fresh-produce firms a business opportunity that is worth some £40m a year.”