It’s difficult to imagine a greater pillar of health and wellness within a community than a hospital. Because healthcare professionals are considered trusted authorities, hospitals and healthcare systems are held to high patient and consumer expectations when it comes to serving up healthy, yet delicious food options.
Increasingly with the millennial generation’s interest in protecting the environment, sustainable food options have now entered into that equation. Deeming certain foods healthy and sustainable isn’t just about the inherent nutritional value—it also takes into consideration the agricultural practices and how the food is produced, processed and distributed.
“About three or four years ago, our members became highly interested in sustainable foods,” says Sam Potter, MHS, RD, BS, senior director of support services under strategic sourcing at HealthTrust. “They wanted more education around local food, farm-to-table options and clean labeling to educate their staff and apply that knowledge to their interaction with patients.”
It was this urging for greater options from members that helped bring about HealthTrust’s December 2018 decision to switch to a new food service provider, Foodbuy.
In addition to greater options, the Food & Nutrition Advisory Board also had to find a supplier that offered financial value, operational support, and technology and information transparency, adds Guy Wagner, MBA, vice president of strategic sourcing, commercial products for HealthTrust.
“Overall, Foodbuy will provide our members with more resources to better manage their overall food operations, including additional financial value and savings over our current program,” Wagner explains.
“In terms of operational support, Foodbuy is bringing additional resources in the areas of account management and culinary expertise. Members have real-time, online visibility and incredible reporting technology, including tracking for sustainable purchases,” he adds.
Foodbuy’s state-of-the-art tools and access to sustainability-minded suppliers and distributors will help members better meet the needs of patients and remain competitive amid the industry’s growing environmental consciousness.
Potter says that one thing members wanted was transparency, both regarding the food itself and what they could save at their time of order. “Foodbuy has an extensive sustainable portfolio at the point of order that offers everything from the name of the product to the SKU information and even a photo. But, even better, they have a link that our members can now use to identify which items have a clean label or are considered sustainable, GMO-free or antibiotic-free,” she notes.
With the help of different vendors, including Gordon Food Service, US Foods and Sysco, Foodbuy also has the capacity to offer members the option to buy local products through different initiatives that exist from coast-to-coast. Similarly, if members are interested in serving farm-to-table products, Foodbuy can also support them by working with its direct partners offering related programs.
“It’s important to offer our members options that align with their values,” Potter says. “Buying local and offering sustainable options is a big part of that. There’s also been a lot of discussion in healthcare over the last few years about limiting the use of antibiotics and keeping animals healthier.”
HealthTrust member Hackensack Meridian Health–Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey started an initiative three years ago to serve 100% antibiotic-free meat. And Hackensack Meridian Health is not alone—more than 400 other U.S. hospitals are trying to move toward the same goal.
Over the past decade, many hospitals and healthcare systems have prioritized such a switch in light of the rise in superbugs, or antimicrobial-resistant pathogens. Each year, more than 2 million antimicrobial-resistant infections occur in the U.S. that result in 23,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There’s an industrywide acknowledgement that routinely administering antibiotics to farm-raised animals increases the prevalence of these superbugs. Experts also underscore the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture, often pointing to research from the CDC that estimates 80% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in animals to promote growth and prevent infection. Similarly, the Food and Drug Administration reports that more than 20 million pounds of antibiotics are used in agriculture every year.
Foodbuy also offers a paper category, so members who currently use Styrofoam in cafeterias will be able to choose from a variety of products that are compostable and better for the environment. To assist with member hospitals’ health and wellness goals, an additional back-end resource is Foodbuy’s Webtrition platform. This web-based ingredient, recipe and menu-management tool can store recipes, nutritional information and help support inventory control.
To achieve financial stewardship, hospitals need to ensure they’re getting a high-quality product at the right price, whether that product happens to be sustainable or not. Foodbuy’s back-end operational support systems and state-of-the-art technology can make that happen, explains Brett Rogers, director of strategic sourcing, food and nutrition for HealthTrust.
“The Foodbuy program’s user interface will provide members with lots of data to help support and inform their underlying business strategies,” Rogers says. “Their tech tools give a higher value decision point to the user.”
Specifically, access to data could help inform a member organization’s long-term strategy to buy local produce or antibiotic-free chicken through the tracking of sustainable purchases. For members whose healthcare organizations span multiple states, this intelligence could prove particularly useful in seeing how different menus in different locations can impact savings or tracking of healthy food initiatives.
Potter notes that these reporting tools could also help drive compliance or highlight areas where one market may be compliant at 85% where another may be compliant at 95%.
“They’ll be able to dig into the details of those purchases and identify alternative stocked products that can better fit their contracted menus, delivering additional financial savings and improving patient and client satisfaction,” Potter explains.
Members will also be able to see pricing details that aren’t currently available, including the flat cost of an item and back-end incentives like rebate offers for buying in bulk. Per line item, members will know how much they saved in a specific category month over month.
“The Foodbuy platform turns data into information that members can use to optimize what they’re buying. Essentially, all the same data will be there based on their ordering, but it’s the back-end package that sets it apart,” Wagner explains.