Sustain Bridging the Gap International policy case studies

Enhancing public sector food procurement

Executive summary

This Bridging the Gap scoping report explores the pivotal role public institutions can play in supporting sustainable supply chains and enabling wider food system change. Public institutions spend £2.4 billion annually procuring food and catering services so there is significant potential for achieving improved health and environmental outcomes.

The Procurement Act

The Procurement Act, introduced in October 2023, aims to improve how the government procures by creating a simpler and more flexible commercial system. This is intended to open public procurement to new entrants such as small businesses and social enterprises, and to embed transparency throughout the commercial lifecycle. The proposed measures come into play in October 2024.

What were the findings?

Overall, the interventions show a growing recognition of the interconnectedness of food choices, health, the environment, and the economy. Common challenges include funding and budget constraints, effective stakeholder coordination, regulatory limitations, relatively low reach to target populations and the need to change mindsets around sustainable food practices. It is important to avoid interruptions in food procurement and supply by ensuring the continuity of interventions.

Political will, government commitment and a supportive legal framework all play a significant role in driving these policies forward. Access to funding, subsidies and financial support is also crucial. By creating new markets and marketing channels for sustainable and organic products such policies can lead to better health outcomes for target populations.

About this report

This report provides a broad overview of existing and proposed policies that are employed by different countries to incorporate climate and nature friendly food into their public sector procurement practices. For each intervention, the report highlights benefits, challenges, enablers and outcomes, as well as key takeaways and opportunities.

The interventions/policies included are as follows:

  1. Scotland Good Food Nation Act: Promoting a holistic approach to food sustainability and public procurement.
  2. Food Wales Bill: Prioritising affordable and healthy food.
  3. Danish Organic Action Plan: Using public kitchen conversion to boost organic food procurement.
  4. Chisan-Chiso ('Local Production for Local Consumption') Movement: Encouraging consumption of regionally sourced products.
  5. Ile de France: Subsidising school meals to promote regional organic products.
  6. Austria Eco Purchasing: Embracing environmentally friendly food.
  7. Sweden Green Procurement Policy: Organic procurement through voluntary targets.
  8. Brazil Food Acquisition Program PAA: Directly procuring organic and agroecological food from small-scale farmers.
  9. Brazil National School Feeding Program PNAE: Ensuring at least 30% food procurement from family farmers for school meals.

 

This simple traffic light system is used throughout to illustrate how well each policy/intervention adheres to Bridging the Gap’s main aims: increasing organic supply and increasing access.

Organic Access

No mention of organic

Some mention of organic

Strong mention of organic

No mention of increasing access 

Some mention of increasing access 

Strong mention of increasing access 

 

Deep dive: Interventions & policies

 

Good Food Nation Act

Some mention of organic

Some mention of increasing access

KEY FACTS

  • Location: Scotland
  • Initiated: 2022
  • Owner: Scottish Government
  • Type: Legislation
  • Aim: Set a new vision for Scotland: that by 2025 Scotland will be “a Good Food Nation, where people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food they produce, buy, cook, serve, and eat each day.”
  • Mechanism: The Act places duties on Scottish Ministers and certain public authorities to produce plans of their policies in relation to food and set out what they will do to realise those plans. This involved strengthening public procurement rules to ensure local authority funding is spent on local, healthy and sustainable food. It specifically endorsese The Soil Association's Food For Life accreditation.

BENEFITS

CHALLENGES

Well-defined: has a clear definition of what Good Food means to Scotland.

Systemic approach: impetus to leverage school meals as a driver for food systems change.

Organic: the Act aims to increase the use of organic produce, particularly in public sector food procurement.

Support for catering: Food for Life Scotland provides practical support to help public catering services.

Multifaceted approach:

Vague: no clear target or date in organic action plan or Good Food Nation Act.

Potentially outdated: no mention in new Public Procurement Strategy for Scotland 2023 to 2028

Exclusive: schools in deprived areas may not be able to afford Food for Life accreditation. Only 4/18 of the accredited Local Authorities are in regions of high deprivation.

ENABLERS

OUTCOMES

Legally recognised: it is recognised by law and places duties on Scottish Ministers and certain public authorities.

Flexible: legislative and policy framework provides sufficient flexibility to enable local authorities to meet the needs of their communities.

Clear standards: legislation sets out nutritional standards for food and drink along with an inspection framework to monitor and support implementation.

Customer engagement: engagement with young people and parents (as customers).

Alliances: there is a strong association with The Soil Association Food for Life Scotland.

Mixed model: Scotland follows a mixed model approach to procurement — large framework contracts are supplemented with smaller, local purchasing. This enables flexibility while ensuring supply chain continuity.

Schools in 18 out of 32 Local Authorities across Scotland have the Food for Life accreditation.

It is too early to assess full outcomes.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR BTG

Bridging the Gap could advocate for a mixed procurement model. Partnering with Food for Life could be an easy way to leverage public procurement in schools. However, costs need to be considered.

 

Food (Wales) Bill

No mention of organic

Strong mention of increasing access

KEY FACTS

  • Location: Wales
  • Initiated: 2022 (rejected in May 2023)
  • Owner: Welsh Government
  • Type: Legislation
  • Aim: The Food Wales Bill aims to establish a sustainable food system in Wales by prioritising affordable, healthy and socially sustainable food for the population.
  • Mechanism: The primary food goal is the provision of affordable, healthy and economically, environmentally and socially sustainable food for the people of Wales. The secondary goal specifies encouraging equitable distribution of healthy and sustainable food.

BENEFITS

CHALLENGES

Inclusive: Explicitly mentions affordability and equitable distribution of healthy food.

Garnering support across political parties and stakeholders: it was rejected by the Labour party, signalling a lack of consensus or support for the proposed legislation.

Does not mention organic: instead, it refers to “enhancing and regenerating the natural environment through food production” and “restoring and maintaining biodiversity and habitats through food production”.

ENABLERS

OUTCOMES

Welsh Food Commission: proposed the establishment of a Welsh Food Commission to support the achievement of goals set by public bodies.

National food strategy: mandates the preparation and publication of a national food strategy by Welsh Ministers and requires public bodies to make and publish local food plans.

Targeted: requirement to set targets with specified reporting date (Section 4(1) & Section 6(1)).

Most of the recommendations themselves were accepted (some in principle).

Rejected by the Labour party: the Welsh Government felt that a national food strategy would duplicate existing food and food related policies. They recommended an amendment to the Bill to remove section 2 of the Bill, which sets out the primary food goal. They also wanted more detailed cost estimations.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR BTG

The Bill is a good example of how the affordability of healthy food can be incorporated into food policies by making it a priority at a national scale. It also illustrates the political difficulties that might emerge.

 

Organic Action Plan 2020 (Økologisk Handlingsplan 2020) *kitchen conversion

Strong mention of organic

Strong mention of increasing access

KEY FACTS

  • Location: Denmark
  • Initiated: 2012
  • Owner: Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (DVFA) (for kitchen conversion)
  • Type: Guidance
  • Aim: The Danish Organic Action Plan set a target of 60% of organic food to be served by public caterers by 2020.
  • Mechanism: Denmark's comprehensive approach combines supply-side and demand-side measures, including increased procurement of organic food in the public sector. The policy instrument discussed here is public kitchen conversion.

BENEFITS

CHALLENGES

Multifaceted: addresses both supply-side and demand-side measures.

Specific target: 60% of the meals served in the public sector to be organic.

Policy instrument: Copenhagen set target in 2001 to reach 90% organic produce in public kitchens by 2015.

Piloted: ran pilots to gain a deeper understanding of the process and potential impact.

Wise Food Procurement project 2013-2016: granted 12.4 million Danish kroner over the period 2013-2016 for establishing a task force to provide advice and information on public procurement of organic food products.

Funding: the conversion process to achieve a high percentage of organic food required substantial investment.

Mindsets: part of the programme involved a shift in mindset among procurement officers, kitchen staff and school staff, which took time.

ENABLERS

OUTCOMES

Government financial support: 28 million kroner was granted in both 2012 and 2013 to back the conversion of kitchens to use organic food (29 million kroner in 2014).

Own government certification: organic cuisine label (not formal requirement but added a regulatory layer).

Involvement of wholesalers: food wholesalers played a crucial role in the success of the conversion programme, promoting the availability and use of organic produce.

Economic subsidies for staff training: these were combined with information dissemination.

Support: training and motivating kitchen staff to use organic produce without exceeding existing catering budgets.

Investment in infrastructure: conversion process has taken 10 years and cost € 7.1 million, included the launch of a permanent structure: the Københavns Madhus (Copenhagen House of Food), whereas the overall food budget of a single year is €40 million (and has not changed).

Independent research: an average (median) increase in the organic food percentage from baseline to follow-up of 24 percentage points.

The proportion of public kitchens eligible for the Organic Cuisine Label in either silver (60–90% organic food procurement) or gold (90–100% organic food procurement) level doubled from 31% to 62%, respectively during the conversion period.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR BTG

Recommended policies should address both the demand and supply side.

An important point to note here is that Demark aimed to increase organic production THROUGH public sector procurement. They created the market that then drew interest from wholesalers.

The Københavns Madhus method summarises ten basic principles to change the public meals system. This provides a common set of principles for all the public kitchens. BTG could advocate for similar guidance in the UK.

 

Chisan-Chisho (‘Local Production for Local Consumption’) movement

No mention of organic

Strong mention of increasing access

KEY FACTS

  • Location: Japan
  • Initiated: Mid-1990s
  • Owner: National Government
  • Type: Promotion
  • Aim: To actively encourage the consumption of regionally sourced products.
  • Mechanism: Initiatives could be categorised into three broad themes: awareness raising, education, and marketing. These include the promotion of local food for public procurement, “eat local” days at school, marketing campaigns at retail stores, and direct marketing such as chokubaijo – which refers to direct-to-customer selling places.

BENEFITS

CHALLENGES

Government support: the national government adopted the concept of chisan-chisho in its 2002 Revitalization Plan for Food and Agriculture and in the 2005 New Basic Plan.

Awareness raising: chisan-chisho initiatives include awareness-raising activities and educational programs, helping consumers make informed choices about local and possibly organic food options.

Limited emphasis on organic: many chisan-chisho movements do not incorporate organic farming

Unmonitored: no regular evaluation (that is easily accessible).

Limited active food citizenship: citizen involvement is often institutionalised via the ‘‘supporter system”, whereby governments recruit interested consumers and producers to engage in chisan-chisho activities. The involvement of institutional actors might discourage active food citizenship and the transformative potential of the programme.

ENABLERS

OUTCOMES

Funding support: the recognition of chisan-chisho in national agricultural policy frameworks led to the distribution of national funding to local governments to implement chisan-chisho projects.

Awareness-raising initiatives: activities aimed at raising awareness about local food, cooking classes, farm visits, dietary guidelines and local food recipes contribute to the success of chisan-chisho.

Partnerships: collaborations between governments, Japan Agricultural Cooperatives, local organisations and citizens enhance the implementation of chisan-chisho initiatives.

10% of the national food commerce takes place at the local producers’ markets (choku bai jo).

OPPORTUNITIES FOR BTG

The introduction of Marché programs, resembling farmers' markets, has contributed to promoting local products that focus on themes like organic and ecological products. This programme highlights the importance of government-supported marketing for organic food.

 

Ile-de-France

Strong mention of organic

Strong mention of increasing access

KEY FACTS

  • Location: France
  • Initiated: 2019
  • Owner: Ile-de-France Regional Government
  • Type: Subsidy
  • Aim: To encourage the prioritisation of regional organic products.
  • Mechanism: Supplements 21 cents for each meal at school canteen.

BENEFITS

CHALLENGES

Specific target: aiming for 100% of high schools to be supplied with local products and 50% with organic products by 2024.

Capacity: kitchen equipment, room for manoeuvre, budget allocation and training.

ENABLERS

OUTCOMES

Supported by Egalim law (2018): article 11 mandates that public catering establishments include 50% sustainable and quality products in their offerings, including a minimum of 20% organic products.

Centralised: collective catering in high schools in Ile-de-France is overwhelmingly managed by public administration.

High school chef involvement in "Toqués du local” network: the network promotes quality local products, further supporting the use of sustainable and locally sourced ingredients in school meals.

Widespread impact: 27 million meals are served each year in 463/677 public high schools. According to the Region, this represents an annual budget of 80 million euros.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR BTG

This provides a real-life example of ‘bridging the gap’ at scale (useful to monitor for success). However, there is legislative drive through the Egalim law and that most of school catering in France is controlled by public institutions. The success of this law provides a backing to advocate for similar standards in the UK.

 

 The Swedish Public Procurement Act

Strong mention of organic

Strong mention of increasing access

KEY FACTS

  • Location: Sweden
  • Initiated: 2017
  • Owner: Swedish Government
  • Type: Legislation
  • Aim: The GPP Act in Sweden sets a target of 60% of all food procured by the public sector to be organic by 2030.
  • Mechanism: Municipalities in Sweden were encouraged to set their own political goals regarding organic food purchases.

BENEFITS

CHALLENGES

Specific target: 60% of all food procured by the public sector to be organic by 2030.

Flexibility: municipalities set their own political goals regarding organic food purchases. Local (voluntary) political goals were found to have a significant positive effect on the share of organic food purchases in municipalities.

Financial support: modest funding was available for kitchen conversion projects from 2008 to 2010, which helped support the policy's implementation. However, government subsidies for kitchen conversion have ceased.

Lack of incentives: local authorities were not compensated by the state for organic price premiums, leaving organic food policies in the hands of local politicians.

Funding: public authorities view financial constraints as a main barrier for GPP implementation.

Non-binding: the policy is not binding, and non-compliance does not lead to any adverse consequences, e.g. penalties or fines.

Lack of central coordination: no single central government agency is responsible for coordinating efforts to reach the consumption goal.

ENABLERS

OUTCOMES

Political will of municipalities: the adoption of political goals at the local level depends on the ambitions of the specific municipality.

Financial capacity: the financial capacity of municipalities is positively related to the uptake of green public procurement policies in terms of organic food purchases.

Investment in organic education: under the food strategy adopted in 2017, the Board of Agriculture spent a total of 3 million Swedish kronor on organic education activities within the public sector in 2018 and 2019.

Approach works in Sweden: the 25% organic food consumption goal set for 2010 was achieved in 2013, indicating a positive impact of the policy.

  • Study finds that appears that Swedish municipalities adhere to their locally decided policy goals.
  • Ambitious goals, when set at minimum 10% organic food purchases, led to a substantial increase in organic food expenditures (about 20%).

Example: Malmö, a city in Sweden, has set ambitious targets for organic procurement, aiming for 100% organic food by 2020. In 2020, 70% of the food used in local activities was certified organic. The city emphasises education and training to communicate the benefits of sustainable food and climate consciousness.

Although organic food generally costs more per unit, Malmö's school kitchens have been able to increase the overall share of organic food without raising budgets through strategies like using vegetable proteins (e.g. legumes) instead of meat and using fewer processed ingredients (like bread). This low-cost strategy also lowers the ecological footprint of food via the lower resource usage and carbon footprint of plant-based food.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR BTG

The Swedish example shows that voluntary guidance can have an impact, given the right context and support. It also highlights the challenges associated with it. The organic angle — as demonstrated by the Eat S.M.A.R.T. model Malmö follows — might be a good one to push organic in a more holistic manner.

 

EcoPurchasing

Strong mention of organic

Strong mention of increasing access

KEY FACTS

  • Location: Vienna, Austria
  • Initiated: 2016
  • Owner: City Administration of Vienna
  • Type: Guidance
  • Aim: To provide a high quality and sustainable food supply by purchasing food produced in an environmentally and climate-friendly manner.
  • Mechanism: Stipulated minimum rate of 30% (by value) of all procured food is made up of organic products.

BENEFITS

CHALLENGES

Well-established: the programme is part of OkoKauf Wein - EcoBuy Vienna which has been implementing high standards for sustainable procurement since 1998.

Specific target: minimum rate of 30% (by value) of all procured food is made up of organic products.

Impact on population health: by implementing principles such as region of origin, seasonality and reduction of animal products, the programme promotes healthier and more nutritious food choices for people in the City’s public facilities.

Changing decision makers: the turnover of decision-makers in public institutions can interrupt momentum.

Kitchen closures: the closure of kitchens and the increasing use of centralised cook & chill systems can impact the preparation of fresh, on-site meals.

Corporate pressure: pressure from large catering companies towards centralised kitchens and cook & chill systems can impact the procurement choices and incentives offered.

Limited local procurement: there is limited effort to procure locally, and the criteria do not mandate the support of the local economy.

ENABLERS

OUTCOMES

Government commitment: Vienna's Climate Protection Programme provided a political window of opportunity, and the commitment of key actors within the City of Vienna played a crucial role in driving the program.

Stakeholder motivation: the commitment of procurement officers and chefs to sustainable products and practices is a driving force.

Funding for development: the City of Vienna dedicated €300,000 per year for the further development of the program.

Stakeholder participation: active involvement of public procurement practitioners in working groups fosters active contributions, leading to widespread acceptance.

Mandatory requirement: in 2003, the ÖkoKauf criteria were made mandatory for all municipal procurement and contracting.

Cross-initiative support: the programme is supported by "Naturally Good Dish", which provides specific eco-friendly modifications to procurement rules for canteens across the city.

Increased organic consumption: the ÖkoKauf guidelines resulted in a considerable increase in the consumption of organic food, reaching 51% in day-care centres, 38% in hospitals, 18% in schools, and 25% in senior citizen homes.

GHG emission reduction: the program has enabled the city to avoid about 15,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Economic savings: estimated annual savings of €1.5 million.

“Values” for money: Vienna's public procurement paradigm shift has transitioned from "value for money" to "values for money," emphasizing the importance of sustainability and values in procurement decisions.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR BTG

Naturally Good Dish (Naturlich gut Teller) is a respected label that consumers know is good for them. A similar scheme can be introduced that verifies the taste and quality of food in the UK.

Exploring and incorporating an environmental angle (e.g. emissions saving) could get more local authorities on board.

 

Food Acquisition Program PAA

Strong mention of organic

Strong mention of increasing access

KEY FACTS

  • Location: Brazil
  • Initiated: 2003
  • Owner: National Government
  • Type: Regulation
  • Aim: To support family farmers and increase access to food for vulnerable populations, including low-income individuals.
  • Mechanism: The government procures organic and agroecological food directly from small-scale farmers at fair prices. The purchased food is then distributed to schools, hospitals, and social assistance programmes.

BENEFITS

CHALLENGES

Support for family farming: boosts food production of family farmers and settlers of land reform and supports food security.

Market diversification: creates and promotes new markets and marketing channels for family farming products.

Food access and nutrition: increases food access and improves nutritional status of vulnerable populations.

Agroecological and organic production: encourages agroecological and organic production through a price premium of up to 30%.

Cultural preservation: contributes to strengthening and restoring regional food culture through diversified product range.

Limited reach: benefits a relatively low percentage of family farmers (4.2%) compared to the total number in Brazil.

Organic procurement challenge: small share in the procurement of organic products due to lack of information and assessment mechanisms.

Sustainability and continuity: ensuring continuity of the program to avoid interruptions in purchases and maintain farmers' efforts.

Articulation at different levels: coordinating and aligning efforts and priorities between federal, state and municipal levels.

Organisational weaknesses: addressing logistical challenges, lack of organisation among farmers and inadequate infrastructure in schools for receiving diversified products.

ENABLERS

OUTCOMES

Structured: creates a structured demand for family farming in Brazil through its six modalities.

Legislation: the programme is embedded in legislation (Law 10,696) and fortified by CONSEA.

Interministerial coordination: involvement of multiple ministries in the Management Group (GGPAA) for effective coordination and intersectoral actions.

Civil society engagement: involvement of civil society through the Advisory Council, national seminars, and regional/national workshops.

Food security and access: improved food security and accessibility for various beneficiaries, including schools, care homes, and socio-assistance institutions. In 2011 more than 25,000 entities were benefitted, or over 20 million people.

Economic empowerment: economic empowerment of family farmers through sales and market diversification, indirectly benefiting rural communities.

Nutrition and health: positive impact on nutrition and health through the supply of diverse, nutritious foods and education on good eating habits.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR BTG

In combination with PNAE (below), these programmes represent the largest structured demand for family farming in Brazil. The term “structured demand” refers to the efforts of connecting large foreseeable demands of food to the family farmers, which in Brazil now occurs mainly through public procurement. Similarly, BTG could use schools and public institutions to ensure that there is a steady demand for organic produce, supporting organic farmers in the country and incentivising conversion to organic farming.

 

National School Feeding Program PNAE

Strong mention of organic

Strong mention of increasing access

KEY FACTS

  • Location: Brazil
  • Initiated: 2009
  • Owner: National Government, coordinated by The National Fund for the Development of Education (FNDE)
  • Type: Regulation
  • Aim: To improve school feeding programme.
  • Mechanism: The FNDE transfers funds for procurement of foodstuffs from the Union to the executing entities in ten monthly instalments to cover 20 school days a month. The executing entities manage the transferred funds, taking into account a 30% minimum quota of procuring organic agricultural products from local farmers.

BENEFITS

CHALLENGES

Food procurement from family farmers: ensures at least 30% of food procurement from family farmers, promoting their economic participation.

Nutrition: utilises nutritionist-designed menus to provide appropriate and healthy food to school children.

Widespread coverage: operates in all Brazilian states and municipalities, benefitting approximately 45 million pupils.

Regulatory limitations: regulatory restrictions on food supply by family farmers based on fiscal document issues, inadequate supply, and hygienic-sanitary conditions.

Continuity: ensuring continuity in food procurement to prevent disruptions that affect farmers and consumers.

Prioritisation: addressing challenges related to articulation and prioritisation between federal, state and municipal levels in programme implementation.

ENABLERS

OUTCOMES

Structured: this programme creates a structured demand for family farming in Brazil through its six modalities.

Legislation: the programme is recognised in law — Law Nº 11,947 from 2009, known as the School Feeding Act.

Interministerial coordination: formation of an interministerial management group to facilitate food procurement from family farmers and manage purchases.

Policy alignment: PAA (above) acting as a pilot and inspiration for institutional buying from family farmers for the PNAE.

Market expansion: creation of a new market for family farmers by guaranteeing 30% investment in food (from FNDE funds) produced by them.

Food security for school children: ensures a consistent and nutritious food supply to school children, contributing to their health and wellbeing.

Economic empowerment: economic empowerment of family farmers through increased sales and guaranteed procurement from the programme.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR BTG

The PAA and PNAE show the importance of how aligned policies can fortify each other. Moreover, the UK should explore a minimum quota of agroecological produce in school meals.

 

Revision of Government Buying Standards - Proposal

KEY FACTS

Location: UK

Date: 2022 (ongoing)

Type: Regulation

Owner: DEFRA

Ask: The revision of the Government Food Buying Standards aims to extend the scope of the current GBSF to set minimum, enforced targets for organic and sustainable food. A previous GBSF modification — mandating that all government-procured fish must be sustainably certified — had an impact that extended beyond the organisations directly obligated to comply. Mandates for organic/agroecological procurement could have similar far-reaching impacts.

The Government Food Strategy aims to influence the revision of the Government Food Buying Standards. They propose that 50% of food expenditure is to be on food produced locally or to higher environmental production standards such as organic, Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) Marque or equivalent, while maintaining value for money for taxpayers.

 

Scottish Organic Action Plan 2022 - Proposal

KEY FACTS

Location: Scotland

Date: 2022 (June)

Type: Strategy

Owner: Scottish Organic Stakeholders Group

Ask: The Scottish Organic Action Plan aims to establish a £5m fund to help lower the barrier for councils to procure organic food, thereby supporting a sustainable local food economy. The plan has three key steps: identify a basket of products that can enable a swift movement towards increased organic public procurement; run pilots to test dynamic purchasing, enabling the use of organic produce in public sector kitchens; and establish a “Scottish House of Food” that functions as a public procurement “do-and-think-tank”.

Bridging the Gap: Bridging the Gap to climate and nature friendly food for all.

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