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Supply chain disruptions impacting school lunch programs in Northeast Wisconsin

Local News

APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV)-School lunch programs are another one of the many areas affected by the pandemic. 

Not just in Wisconsin but all around the country, supply chain disruptions caused by labor and manufacturing shortages due to the pandemic are forcing school districts to get creative with their school lunch programs.

Chartwells K12 which provides food for Appleton Area School District provided the following statement when Local Five news asked them how the pandemic has affected school lunch programs in Northeastern Wisconsin.

We recognize the important role that meals play in the lives and success of all of the students we serve. Amidst the ongoing national supply chain challenges, students and families can continue to count on us for great-tasting meals kids love to eat every day, but there will likely be more frequent menu changes based on product substitutions from our suppliers. In some cases, we do have fewer options for students to select from – for example, instead of having three entrees to choose from, there may only be two. Our dedicated school lunch heroes throughout Northern Wisconsin are working tirelessly to do everything we can to proactively address issues before they inevitably arise and minimize any impact to the student’s cafeteria experience.

Chartwells K12 Spokesperson

Local Five news also obtained a letter Chartwells K12 wrote to parents at Appleton Area School District:

Over the past few months, you may have seen news stories about disruptions in the supply chain across the country, resulting from the effects of the pandemic. Industries, including food and food service, as well as construction and automotive, have been impacted by manufacturing and labor shortages across the country in ways that we’ve never experienced before.

At the Appleton Area School District, students and families can continue to count on Chartwells, our food service provider, for great-tasting meals kids love to eat every day, but as you may have already seen, there will likely be more frequent menu changes based on product substitutions from our suppliers.

Understanding these supply chain challenges will likely continue for the next several months, we wanted to reach out and let you know we’re doing everything we can to proactively address issues before they inevitably arise. Working in partnership with Foodbuy, our group purchasing organization and the largest procurement organization in North America, some of the proactive steps we have taken, include:

We’ve changed our ordering schedules to allow distributors more time to identify new sources for out-of-stock products in the event it occurs.

We’ve identified alternate suppliers and products where we found that existing ones wouldn’t be able to meet our needs. For example, we learned our previous supplier for pizza dough would not be able to commit to serving our schools, so we contracted with a new one that can. 

In June, we planned menus for this fall and began placing orders for food at that time. This process was designed to help suppliers and distributors plan well ahead for stock we need to serve kids now.

If there’s one thing the past 18 months has proven, it’s that flexibility is in our DNA. From turning cafeteria operations into emergency meal programs overnight when the pandemic hit to serving kids in classrooms and through meal-kit pick up sites through the past school year, our team is passionate about the meals we serve your students and they’re skilled at quickly adapting to ensure that kids are always fed. 

Chartwells K12

Local Five news attempted to interview several school districts that use Chartwells K12 as their school food provider but none of the school districts would go on record for the story.

At the Green Bay Area Public School District, officials there say they are using similar strategies to get out ahead of the supply chain challenges.

The school district has three vendors for its school lunches, one primary vendor and two backup ones. They say that they’ve noticed the price of food has increased during the pandemic.

“We can add one or two cents per meal which may not seem like a lot but when you’re serving 11,000 students just for lunch each day they add up quickly,” says Food Service Director at GBAPS Lynette Kiehnau.

She says the district is doing their best to not let supply chain challenges impact the nutritional quality of the meals they serve to students.

“The food service staff in Green Bay are amazing we couldn’t do it without our staff hands down to that,” says Kiehnau. “I’m impressed with the meals that we are serving.”

Outside of one of its high schools, there was a sign announcing that Appleton Area School District is hiring in the food service department. Green Bay Area Public Schools also told Local Five they are always looking to hire more food service workers.

In the spring, the United States Department of Agriculture announced they would make school meals free to all children during this school year. For some schools, this means they are serving food to more students than they ever have before which adds an additional challenge.

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