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The Ultimate Guide to K-12 School Foodservice Bids


The K-12 school foodservice segment is highly specialized and complex.

  1. Federal rules and regulations are attached to K-12 foodservice procurement.
  2. Cost containment is extremely important because if a school saves money, it can lead to other educational investments.
  3. There isn’t a central location for buying products and resources.
  4. One size does NOT fit all. Schools need information presented in a wide variety of formats to accommodate their needs.
The K-12 school foodservice process

The K-12 school foodservice segment is highly specialized and complex.


All parties involved are struggling with major inefficiencies related to sharing product information, simplifying the bid process, and selecting and procuring products for school foodservice.

We feel for everyone in this ecosystem; there’s so much to grapple with.

Let’s see if we can tackle these complexities together by starting with basic industry terms and then dissecting the bid process to demystify the K-12 foodservice segment.


K-12 Foodservice Segment Key Terms

  • National School Lunch Program (NSLP): The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. The program was established under the National School Lunch Act, signed by President Harry Truman in 1946.


  • Child Nutrition Programs (CNP): The Child Nutrition Programs are a group of programs funded by the federal government to support meal and milk service programs for children in schools, residential and day care facilities, summer day camps, and more. Programs include school lunch, breakfast, summer food, special milk, commodity distribution, and after-school care.


  • USDA: U.S. Department of Agriculture is a federal agency that provides leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, and nutrition. It is focused on ensuring children get the nutrition they need. Throughout the pandemic, many school districts were able to provide free take-out meals to families through USDA funding.


  • District: A school district is a geographical unit for the local administration of schools.


  • Co-op: Cooperative (co-op) purchasing is a procurement approach in which a group of school districts join together to accomplish all or some of the purchasing process. This increases their buying power, reduces costs, and improves the quality of products and services available to its members.


  • Group Purchasing Organization (GPO): An entity that’s created to leverage the purchasing power of a group of businesses to obtain discounts from suppliers based on the collective buying power of its members.


The School Bid Process

The K-12 foodservice segment uses a bidding process to compare products from distributors and foodservice manufacturers. During the bid process, schools specifically analyze price, ingredients, resources, and customer service. 

K-12 foodservice programs are usually sourcing products via a GPO, a member-operated co-op, or a third-party co-op. Some schools don’t work with any purchasing agencies.

According to a report from the School Nutrition Association:

    • 34.3% of school nutrition programs are part of a multi-district cooperative for commodities and other items
    • 29.9% of school programs are not part of a co-op or GPO
    • 24.3% of school nutrition programs are part of a GPO
    • 8.5% of school nutrition programs are managed by a third-party rather than a district
    • 5.5% of school nutrition programs are part of a multi-district cooperative for commodities only


School Nutrition Program _ Co Ops and GPOs


When a school district opts to participate in the NSLP or other Federal CNPs, it enters into an agreement with its State, explains the School Nutrition Association. The State has authority through the Federal government to administer CNPs in accordance with the law. In its agreement, the school district or school food authority must comply with Federal rules and State requirements.


What School Nutrition Programs Want

A school’s foodservice program decision maker has many responsibilities; managing school bids is just one aspect. Many districts are looking for a partner relationship,” says Jonathon Fillmore, Gordon Food Service Bid Department Manager. Schools want information and they want collaboration throughout the planning process – from menu planning to managing food costs.

Schools need manufacturer partners to:

  • Support a streamlined buying processes
  • Communicate ingredient and nutritional updates quickly
  • Comply with State and Federal laws
  • Be transparent with resources and information


The Manufacturer’s Objectives

Your priority for K-12 foodservice is to be on the bid. If you’re not, you don’t have a chance to get the order. But, before you get there, you have to understand:

  • Information and product formats per school
  • Government regulations
  • Processing and distribution requirements
  • Price sensitivities

It’s critical for manufacturers to be specific about their K-12 product assortment and why those products are a great choice. Sure, a school might request a generic chicken patty, but if they purchase one that’s a very low price, kids might not eat it. 

School bids continue to challenge manufacturers because bid documents are often poorly written with impractical delivery times or vague information. Since school foodservice decision makers don’t have great forecasting tools, orders don’t often match with manufacturer lead times. There’s not much consistency or consolidation among school meal specifications, and formal agreements aren’t necessarily the standard.


The K-12 Foodservice Community

Co-ops and manufacturers alike strive to have more streamlined processes around K-12 foodservice buying practices and timelines.


When do schools make buying decisions? 

Bid season is January through February. Supplemental bids take place from September to October. 

Many school districts and co-ops contract directly with distributors. Some larger school districts and co-ops are able to contract directly with food manufacturers. Regardless, school nutrition decision makers still need access to product information year round for proper menu planning, nutritional info, and audits. 


How do schools get information? 

Typically, a school will receive product information via distributor and manufacturer proposals. Schools might learn about product information through a distributor website, or through a manufacturer’s website. When schools consider an item for a bid, a manufacturer’s broker or sales team has to submit all kinds of documents, in all kinds of formats.


Wouldn’t it be great for there to be ONE place for both manufacturers and schools to manage and access data?

(Spoiler alert… There is. Keep reading.)

1FS is a Powerful Solution

 K-12 Foodservice Buying Decisions Made Easy

You no longer need to spend your time gathering product information for school bids!

🎒 Manufacturers: Load all of your data into 1FS Schools. When connected via GS1, your products will be updated in real-time. Your brokers can easily access the site as well.

🎒 Co-ops / Districts / GPOs: Access 1FS Schools whenever you need real-time information on products, resources, and nutrition information. You don’t need multiple (static) excel sheets of information.

1FS Schools has a QUALITY K-12 audience ➡️ 5,000+ schools log into the site and these schools represent $735+ million in food purchases and 600+ million meals per year.


$735M+ in k12 foodservice purchases


Schools and food suppliers can easily get involved with our industry solution, 1FS Schools. The platform organizes relationships between distributors, brokers, manufacturers, brands, products, and schools, making it a one-stop-shop for K-12 foodservice information and collaboration.

1FS Schools will help you sell more to the K-12 school foodservice segment. Here’s how:

  1. Improve Visibility of Your Products: Serve your complete product information to more decision makers.
  2. Paid Programming Options Put Your Products Front & Center: Feature new products and advertise products to drive more impressions for your K-12 portfolio.
  3. Collaboration Tools Put Vendors & Buyers in Direct Communication: Interact with decision makers easily and efficiently.