The benefits of group purchasing have been recognized for a long time as they are essentially an extension of the “volume, volume, volume!” rallying cry of mass market businesses and the advantages of economies of scale. For dining programs in onsite environments—especially smaller ones—the ability to bundle procurement with other operators often means the difference between red and black on the financial sheet, even if collective purchasing means some surrender of menu flexibility.
The healthcare market and the major contract management companies are the most active among onsite foodservice players in supporting large, dedicated group purchasing organizations (GPOs), with each of the three largest contract management companies operates a GPO within its organization.
In addition, there are various entities serving specific—though sometimes multiple—markets, often with foodservice as just one of numerous product categories and services offered collectively to members.
The relative uniformity of requirements driven by regulatory restrictions involving nutrition and nutrient composition of dishes has made group purchasing easier in markets like K-12 and healthcare while the diverse menus and offerings of more commercially oriented markets like B&I and higher education hamper collective procurement for all but the most basic high-volume products, though that hardly means GPOs in these segments don’t exist.
However, while healthcare leans more toward comprehensive group purchasing supported by several major national GPO organizations, the K-12 school market tends to operate through smaller, localized, often state-specific organizations such as the POWER Buying Group, a school foodservices purchasing cooperative with a current membership of 677 schools across Florida, and the North Carolina Procurement Alliance, a voluntary partnership of public school districts in the state administering federally funded school nutrition programs with a current membership of 103 of the state’s 115 public school districts. Other examples include the Massachusetts School Buying Group, the Minnesota School Food Buying Group and the School Nutrition Resource Group (SNRG) in Texas.
On a national level, here are some of the major GPO entities operating in onsite markets…
The sole sourcing partner for parent company Compass Group North America, Foodbuy was originally an online coupon site for the foodservice industry that formed a strategic alliance with then-independent Morrison Healthcare and was acquired by Compass in 2001 in conjunction with its acquisition of Morrison. Claiming to be the largest group purchasing organization in North America—parent Compass is by far the largest contract firm on the continent—Foodbuy offers procurement, distribution management, purchasing optimization, culinary solution consulting, eProcurement and audit services.
Established in 1999, Entegra is a fully owned subsidiary of Sodexo to help businesses with foodservice facilities buy more efficiently, and today it claims to be the largest group purchasing organization in the world with a buying power of $24 billion in supplier contracts. Services include not only savings on procurement of products, supplies, services and equipment but data and digital tools to boost client business performance, advisory/client support services and assistance with sustainability and inclusivity programs. Earlier this year, Entegra secured a national food & beverage contract with the National Cooperative Purchasing Alliance, a public agency cooperative with members in all 50 states.
Avendra Group is an umbrella brand formed by Aramark in 2020 that consolidates its various group purchasing units such as Avendra (hotels/resorts), HPSI (healthcare, education, sports/recreation), and IPS (K-12) under the high-visibility Avendra brand. Originally formed by Marriott in 2001 and acquired by Aramark in 2017, Avendra serves over 8,500 hospitality customers and more than 500 luxury and lifestyle hotels across North and Central America, including the Caribbean. HPSI, acquired by Aramark in 2016, currently provides strategic procurement services to more than 31,000 senior living, skilled nursing, education and other foodservice clients nationwide, while IPS offers rebate processing services for K-12 clients for more than 110,000 brand name rebated products.
Premier terms itself a leading healthcare improvement company that unites some 4,400 U.S. hospitals and health systems and 225,000 other providers and organizations, offering integrated data analytics, collaboratives, supply chain solutions and consulting and other services, including group purchasing that includes foodservice related products and services, but they are a minor part of its some $69 billion in purchasing volume.
E&I Cooperative Services
E&I (Educational & Institutional) Cooperative Services originally was formed in 1934 by three Upstate New York universities (Cornell, Syracuse and Colgate) to serve the college market, and it recently expanded into K-12 as well. With over 5,500 member institutions, it offers cooperative purchasing across a broad range of categories, including foodservice products, with some 21,000 available items from 200 manufacturers managed through more than 70 regional prime vendor agreements.
Formed through the 2015 merger of VHA (Voluntary Hospitals of America) and UHC (University HealthSystem Consortium) and its Novation GPO division, the Vizient organization has some 5,000 non-profit health system members.
With a membership of some 4,100 mostly healthcare organizations in 31 states and DC, HPS (Healthcare Procurement Solutions) leverages the purchasing power of its members from some 1,200 participating suppliers in a variety of categories, including foodservice products.
A division of Premier, Essensa serves the higher education and B&I markets, offering group purchase advantages for a range of products, including foodservice products and equipment, as well as other services like distribution, shipping, facility maintenance and office technology.
Urban School Food Alliance
Created almost a decade ago to promote healthier school meals among the largest school districts in the country, Urban School Food Alliance (USFA) is not exactly a traditional group purchasing organization so much as a collaborative designed to promote an area of common interest (i.e., healthy school meals). USFA’s activities include the sharing of best practices and the development of effective procurement strategies for healthier products. From its original membership of six major districts—including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles—USFA has more than doubled to a current membership of 15 major districts from all across the country, including the Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange and Palm Beach County districts in Florida as well as Dallas and Philadelphia, all of which are among the 25 largest public school districts in the country.