Regional food for canteens and industrial kitchens

Wiener Schnitzel
Photo: BML / Alexander Haiden

With its initiative “Austria eats regionally” (“Österreich isst regional”) the Austrian Federal Government wants to encourage public institutions to purchase regional food. This is an important means of strengthening regional agriculture and protecting the environment.

With the initiative “Austria eats regionally” the Federal Government works to convince industrial kitchens of public institutions to purchase as many regional and seasonal products as possible. In this way, the Federal Government wants to set a good example, which might even motivate other industrial kitchens to use more regional products.

Why is regional food so important?

Regional products have several important advantages. For one thing, transport routes are shorter in the case of regional food procurement. Short-distance transport causes considerably smaller amounts of CO₂ – which is good for the environment and for our climate. In addition, this is a way of ensuring that food will also in the future be grown and produced in the region - also in the long term. Regional farmers - many of them rather small family farms - are strengthened because the demand for their products increases. In this way regional production is promoted and the regional economy benefits.

Why is mass catering of vital importance?

Per day, about 1.8 million persons are provided with food from about 3,000 Austrian mass catering companies. These are 20 percent of the people living in Austria, or one in five persons. Mass catering means the supply with food of a restricted circle of persons at limited prices at a place where these persons have to stay for organisational reasons. This may sound a little bit “bulky”, but in essence relates to canteens and industrial kitchens at the working place or in hospitals, residential homes for the elderly, educational institutions, kindergartens and the like.

A considerable share of these persons, about 450,000, eat in public institutions. For this purpose, products worth 1.35 million euros are spent daily - about 330 million euros per year. These incredibly high amounts have a considerable impact on the Austrian food market. This is why it is so important what is served at public institutions. The procurement of food for public institutions can be an important lever and can boost regional food.

How does public procurement work?

When public institutions purchase food, they have to follow a certain procedure: If the respective amount exceeds 144,000 euros, they have to launch a call for tenders in which all the relevant companies have the opportunity to submit an offer. Often, public agencies invite tenders for several years at once.

As this is rather complicated and time-consuming for an individual institution, the “Bundesbeschaffungsgesellschaft” (Federal Procurement Agency, abbr. "BBG”) has been established. It invites tenders for specific products according to the legal provisions and selects providers in line with the relevant guidelines. Via a big online shop public agencies can then choose the relevant products without having to publish tenders themselves. As BBG purchases large quantities, it also gets lower prices in most cases. Within the framework of the initiative “Austria eats regionally” BBG will support public institutions in purchasing regional and seasonal products.

Which hurdles have to be overcome for regional procurement?

Giving priority to regional food as a public institution is not as easy as one might think. On the one hand, the organisation of food products is complicated: For health and price reasons, recipes are very accurately calculated and do not permit deviations. For this reason, industrial kitchens need large quantities of uniform products - for example potatoes of one variety or schnitzel of the same size, all of them in the respective quality. In many cases only large providers are able to supply that, whereas regional providers reach their limits. Moreover, many products - above all fruit and vegetables - cannot be produced in Austria all over the year. Furthermore, the purchasing logistics is so complex that it is sometimes not so easy to find out where the products of the wholesaler supplying them originally come from. In addition, legal framework conditions have to be met to ensure that the procurement process is fair and in line with the applicable EU legislation.

The commitment to regional food is whorthwhile

Despite the challenges involved, the commitment to regional food is whorthwhile - and people in Austria know that. Three quarters of them would like to see an expansion of the range of regional food. The project “Austria eats regionally” therefore has great potential. The Federal Government starts with initiatives in the catering for the police, the Federal Army and Parliament; subsequently, BBG will help other public agencies implement similar projects. Moreover, everyone in Austria can give an impetus by opting for regional food products.