Working through market constrictions

Published On: April 7, 2016

Fires, droughts and avian influenza can have a devastating effect on the culinary world. The harms of these disasters tumble like dominos until they crash into venders now crushed by the weight of no longer being able to distribute possibly thousands of products. It’s essential Michigan State University’s Culinary Services Food Stores and other culinary departments stay on top of food constrictions to ensure that MSU serves the highest quality food to students, staff and guests. To stay informed about how these natural disasters will influence food production, it’s necessary for Food Stores to be in constant contact with their food providers. When natural disasters and other outbreaks occur, services are forced to adapt to the change. The lack of availability of certain, many would say essential, products affects the menus for events and meals across campus.

MSU Food Stores stays in constant communication with buyers and sellers across the nation. This ensures that they stay informed with product resources and availability. Purchasing, warehousing, and distribution of food and food service items to RHS and the university at large is all on the hands of Food Stores. As a result, it’s essential that Food Stores stay on top of events that will affect their production and distribution. Weather events around the world have, in particular, caused many products to become unavailable.

“We’ve run into a few issues recently in product resources, most notably turkey, eggs and, with issues from El Nino, produce, including lettuces, spinach, berries and a few other items,” explains Jason Strotheide, East Neighborhood executive chef. When Food Stores notices a shortage in these items, the department modifies its menus to adapt to the change. Staying in tune with media outlets and publications keeps Food Stores on top of the latest constraints on
the market.

In order to stay up to date on food production, Food Stores receives a publication each week called Fresh Press, which lists the fruit and vegetables affected by weather and seasonal changes. Food Stores uses this publication to ensure that only the freshest produce is delivered. When products are constricted in the market, Food Stores is also alerted by its suppliers. The team watches for the products that are low on quantity and high in demand. Through Fresh Press, Food Stores is able to stay on top of the food production trends around the world.

Strotheide explains how Food Stores works with partners to stay informed saying, “Food Stores is in constant contact with buyers and sellers across the region and nation, so their touch on that pulse is a little more accurate than what we in the units can get from media and other outlets.”

Communication between chefs, Food Stores and other Culinary Services units is essential in order to keep everyone up to date on how limitations in product distribution will affect the departments. The limitations cause major effects on the food being served.

Strotheide further explains, “For the most part, we haven’t seen any major impact from the produce restraints. However, we had not been able to get any substantial amounts of raw turkey products for a little bit of time as the market worked to correct the shortage due to avian influenza. Eggs were a challenge at the start of last semester for the same reason but seem to have regained some ground at this point.”

When items like turkey and eggs are low due to avian influenza or other environmental impacts, Food Stores finds supplemental meals to replace what would usually be served. Food Stores Procurement Coordinator, Denise Gerst, explains, “Being in constant communication with our vendors allows us to provide accurate information to our customer so they are able to make alternative plans if necessary.”

Maintaining healthy options for MSU students and faculty is a priority for Culinary Services. To ensure the freshest ingredients go into meals, the university created the Student Organic Farm.
MSU uses the Student Organic Farm to grow fresh, sustainable and organic produce for culinary purposes throughout campus and for the MSU community. The organic farm collaborates with MSU chefs before planning the growing season. This collaboration allows chefs to plan their menus around what the farm will be producing. And growing that produce at MSU allows students and staff the opportunity to see exactly where their food is coming from. This eliminates the possibility of unknown natural disasters affecting the shipping and growing of this produce.

Founded by students in 1999, today the farm produces fresh products year round for MSU. Coupled with Food Stores’ engagement in the market and following of constriction trends, the MSU Student Organic Farm offers a financially responsible and innovative way to gain fresh ingredients and to create a unique learning environment
for students.