Shortening agri-food procurement supply chains – The example of UK

I’m short to be strong!

We are shortening food supply chains to strengthen food security, boost the local economy, and support the sustainability of our food systems.

Finding ways to source sustainable and local food is more important than ever. COVID-19, the climate crisis, and the Ukraine-Russia conflict highlighted the fragility of longer supply chains. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the fragility of long supply chains. The underlying assumptions have fundamental weaknesses (more actors and stages in the chain provide more opportunities for things to go wrong). The likely consequences of the pandemic could and should recognize the need for greater connection to sustainable and regional food producers. Even if slightly higher prices appear in return for greater food security. Professor Tim Lang of London City University has calculated that eight companies control 90% of the UK food supply and states that ‘the British state is failing us by not de-centralising’1. Helping shorter supply chains not only to survive but also to thrive will make our food system more resilient and sustainable (2).

Shortening agri-food procurement supply chains - The example of UK

Picture 1. Embracing locally grown food  

Benefits of Short Food Supply Chains (SFSCs)

Having a mix of short and long supply chains has several benefits:

1)Boosting the local economy

Providing small food businesses with more access to the local markets boosts the regional economy. With fewer stages in the supply chain, local producers may also benefit from higher profit margins. 

2)Managing logistics to reduce carbon emissions

Many local governments have declared a climate emergency. Supporting the development of local food production and distribution could lower transport emissions and increase efficiency.

3)Strengthening food security

COVID-19 demonstrated some of the drawbacks of long supply chains. Having short, regional supply chains alongside longer supply chains bolsters food security so that we’re more ready for uncertain times (2).

Shortening agri-food procurement supply chains - The example of UK

Picture 2. Shortening the food supply chains boosts the local economy 

Every year £2.4 Billion is spent on food and catering in the UK. Yet, the government admits they don’t know where that money is being spent and probably never have. Data suggests less than half of public sector institutions are meeting the minimum food standards set by the government. Additionally, the food systems create up to 30% of human-caused greenhouse gases, and the destruction of biodiversity is mainly down to the continuous intensification of farming to meet the requirement for more and cheaper food. The public sector imports anonymously from abroad almost all food that purchases. And nearly all local, sustainable British food producers have never been able to supply their produce to schools, hospitals, prisons, and the armed services

Consequently, public sector food procurement provides a powerful tool for promoting sustainable local food and can have significant social, environmental, and health impacts due to the number of meals served. Many producers in the UK have been unable to supply the public sector market due to a long list of barriers to entry. Dynamic Food Procurement provides an open digital marketplace for food producers and buyers. A more balanced market can emerge by removing many of the barriers to entry for suppliers, creating significant opportunities for local producers and suppliers (3).

Shortening agri-food procurement supply chains - The example of UK

Picture 3. Public sector food procurement 

The National Food Strategy published in 2021 recommended the UK-wide implementation of Dynamic Food Procurement. This implementation followed successful pilots that proved the ability of Dynamic Food Procurement to deliver shorter, more transparent, and sustainable food supply chains within the public sector. These pilots showed how local farmers could supply the industry for the first time. As a result, the supply chain transparency is unprecedented, allowing consumers to make more informed decisions about welfare, carbon footprints, and biodiversity impacts on their food choices. Moreover, redirected food spending to regional food producers has a significant triple multiplier effect. SMEs in a typical size local authority could use even a tiny minority % of the food spent. Indicative analyses have shown that in this way, they may generate more than £80 Million of annual incremental GDP (4).

Groundbreaking School Food Procurement Pilot 

In 2015, a couple of courageous procurement officers at Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES) Council asked the Enterprise Manager (EM) EM for help. They wanted to revolutionize how they procured food for their local authority-led catering service. The service is already an award – winning caterer distributing meals to 60 schools. To sum up. Deliver the regional food strategy: Improve the quantity and choice of fresh, local, and sustainable products on the school menu while delivering value and reducing spending overall. Together, they conceived a more dynamic form of procurement. This form met exact procurement regulations but had a step-change in SME inclusivity, upgraded service to kitchens, and enabled sustainable menu innovation. EM undertook a root-and-branch review of how food was procured, fulfilled, and delivered to each school kitchen. This review upgraded the school cook’s experience of ordering and receiving deliveries into their kitchen.  

As the Technology & Management agent to the council, EM’s capabilities extended across a wide range of requirements. Examples of this included:

1)project management,

2)helping farmers who were tendering for the first time, delivering fully integrated orders on time,

3)providing regulatory compliance procurement support to local authorities and suppliers,

4)ensuring accreditations and certifications are fulfilled,

5)customer service support and communication/marketing materials to highlight the impact of innovation on politicians, employees, local students, and parents.

The internal technology development team created and maintained the platform. They aimed to assemble it in a fully integrated way per user – buyer, producer, supplier, logistics team member, catering manager, and the end customer (chef). Over two years, the pilot successfully delivered the ingredients for over 2.3 million meals. It has reduced carbon emissions in the supply chain. SME Primary Food Producers contracted directly with the public sector for the first time. The pilot improved digital inclusion in school kitchens and reduced Food waste. Moreover, it enhanced the supply chain’s transparency and environmental, economic, and social sustainability of food procured. This service has upgraded its award level. Improved purchase value and overall food spending fell (5).

The Procurement Model 

There were two parts to the contract. First, a pilot partnership agreement with an organization (agency) that carries out order consolidation and delivery has extensive knowledge of local suppliers and producers and is a technology and logistics partner of B&NES. The second is the producers’ and suppliers’ dynamic purchasing system (DPS). B&NES owned both contracts. See Diagram 1.

Diagram 1. Dynamic Food Procurement (DFP) Model (5)

  1. The pilot partnership agreement with the Agent: This working method had never been tried previously in food procurement. As a result, this arrangement was a pilot one. After carefully considering the legal implications and extensive market engagement (see the following section), B&NES selected the appropriate Agent. The two parties then co-created the best possible solution. They defined the Agent’s roles and responsibilities. They determined how a tech platform could and should function to achieve the desired goals. This engagement was essential for all parties to understand what was required and how it could take place.
  2. The Dynamic Purchasing System: With numerous suppliers, a DPS is comparable to a framework contract, but unlike a framework contract, it permits new suppliers to join at any time as long as they match the set selection criteria. Suppliers can supply what, when, and how they are needed using a DPS and tech agent help.

One of the main benefits of a DPS is that prospective suppliers do not have to join at the beginning of the contract period. Instead, they can apply and are actively encouraged to do so as and when they can. They are not expected or obliged to complete part of the contract value. As a result, DPS permits the pre-qualification procedure “s” part of SMEs to tender for a public sector contract.

Quality requirements are a part of the DPS pre-qualification procedure

Picture 4. Quality requirements are a part of the DPS pre-qualification procedure

Potential providers must go through the pre-qualification process to access the DPS. The necessary procurement rule, legal standards, quality requirements, etc., were all contained in this documentation. Pricing, though, should have been taken into account at this point. Suppliers competed in mini-competitions for the items they wanted to tender once they were on the DPS. This way, big and small producers could compete in the marketplace. It allowed small producers to submit bids without being required to offer the entire lot such as the ones that wanted to supply one product. 

The platform for managing agents’ technology allowed some products to have fixed prices while others had daily dynamic pricing. It may be possible to apportion lessons regarding which items to set the pricing on for the length of the mini-competition and which products enable fully dynamic daily pricing adjustments by the suppliers. The Agent ensured that the mini-competition was a sealed, blind bid process following DPS regulations for each product category within the lot. The Agent and catering manager then ranked each supplier for each product. They established a cutoff point for which suppliers should be part of stores and which should be left off, according to each unique product category. Once the agreements occurred, the school chefs and cooks could place one direct order through the website. They were eliminating the requirement to place orders with individual suppliers. In turn, they received one consolidated delivery instead of separate deliveries from multiple suppliers.

If you are interested in learning more about supply chain & agri-foo sector, read the following article:

How can supply chains be more ethical? – Why is it important to have an ethical supply chain?

In conclusion, I focused mainly on the public sector food procurement in this article and how SFSCs can benefit from it. I presented a successful revolutionary pilot procurement system from Bath and North East Somerset. Eating locally grown food is usually associated with domestic consumption and personal food choices. However, it can also have substantial macroeconomic applications (schools, hospitals, military units, food banks, etc.) with a massive socioeconomic impact on the local or national economy, especially in times of crisis.  

Last but not least, the most crucial point is that producers and consumers create a short food supply chain when they realize they share the same goals. They can achieve these goals by creating new opportunities that strengthen local food networks.


  1. Feeding Britain; our food problems and how to fix them – Prof Tim Lang
  5. Case study for the provision of school food in Bath & North East Somerset (


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