By Ethan Colbert
On Tuesday, the seven members of the Bowling Green Board of Education are expected to award the school district’s food service contract to one of two companies vying for the multi-million dollar contract.
The two companies vying for the five year agreement, which is set to begin with the 2019-2020 school year, are Thrive Nutrition Service and Opaa! Food Service.
Both companies recently sent representatives to present information to the school district’s leaders and to answer questions about their food service, menu selection, and other inquiries.
Thrive Nutrition Services was represented by Scott Murphy, who works out of the St. Charles, Mo., area for the company which is based in South Dakota.
Opaa! Food Service, which is the school district’s current food service provider, was represented by a panel of six different company officials and employees.
In his presentation, Murphy touted how Thrive is a flexible food service program that allows for the school district to have final say as to what food is served in the kitchens that feed roughly 1,200 students and faculty members each day.
“The decision maker of what goes on the menus is the school district,” Murphy said. “There is no bureaucracy with Thrive because we believe in working with the school district and with the school administrators. We like to work together as partners because food is nutrition and there is a lot of education that comes from understanding both food and nutrition.”
He added later that the menus “will not be developed outside of the school district in some faraway office because every school district is different and has different tastes and flavors when it comes to food.”
According to Murphy, Thrive currently manages the kitchens of 28 school districts across the upper Midwest and only recently expanded its footprint to include Missouri school districts.
He later acknowledged that the Bowling Green school district would be among the company’s largest clients as the company currently services school districts with fewer than 1,000 students.
Choosing a food service program that is used to small schools should not be seen as a negative, according to Murphy.
Instead, these smaller schools have allowed Thrive to perfect and fine tune what Murphy described as the company’s “EXCITE Program.”
The Excite program is a “conceptual program that is designed uniquely for each school district” and “provides a feast for the eyes” according to Murphy.
According to the company spokesperson, the food service provider would offer a wide selection at the high school cafeteria that would range from “homemade, from scratch, style cooking for our daily entrees” to “made to order cold cut sandwiches” to “demonstration cooking” where students could watch as their order of Asian Stir Fry or other specialty items are prepared.
“We have this demonstration cooking as often as the district wants and we do this because we want kids to be excited about cooking and the food they are going to eat,” Murphy said.
He later went on to explain that Thrive offers food selection from three core groups: home-style cooking, Field Express, and Field Favorites.
“The from scratch style cooking will feature a signature selection that will rotate each day,” Murphy said. “Then, we will have a portion known as Field Express, which will serve grab and go sandwiches and made to order sandwiches. Then we will also offer Field Favorites, which is nutritional food for people who are in a hurry and looking for something fast and easy.”
Murphy said should the school district decide to go with Thrive for its food service provider that the high school would have a rotating pizza station that will offer a selection of pizza that ranges in both toppings and style, as well as an all you can eat fruit and veggie bar.
Similarly in the middle school, the students and faculty there would be offered hot, home-styled cooking from scratch for their daily entrees. There would also be the Pizza Station and the limitless fruit and veggie bar.
In the Elementary Schools in both Bowling Green and in Frankford, those students would be offered three entrée options daily. Those options include two hot entrees and one cold entrée such as a cold cut sandwich or salad.
Murphy said Thrive offers all of this to the Bowling Green R-I School District at a significant cost savings compared to the current food service provider, Opaa!
“Our proposal is built with an innovative program that has taken into account all of the cost of the benefits of the employees, their salaries, the cost of food, we are still a cost savings to the school district,” Murphy said. “We have built in higher compensation for all of the current employees and we approximately 30-cents per meal less than Opaa!’s prices.”
According to Murphy, this would translate to $60,000 per year in savings compared to the district’s current contract. He also said the company was “confident that you’ll end up saving $300,000 or more over the five years of the contract.”
“In the nuts and bolts of this, you’ll see that we are a cost-savings and that the money saved can go back into your educational funds, which helps teachers help more students and grow your educational programs.”
As far as the current food service employees, Thrive has pledged to honor exactly what each employee is making and currently working during the 2019-2020 school year.
“No employee will be harmed or lost in the transition,” Murphy said.
In their presentation, the OPAA! Personnel discussed the company’s 40-year history and that they are located in Chesterfield, Mo.
“We pride ourselves on home-style food and baking,” Becky Glimka said to the school board. “We don’t do any other form of business. We pride ourselves in our focus to serving food to schools.”
According to Glimka, Opaa! currently has the food service for 265 school districts throughout the Midwest.
Current OPAA District Manager Brandy Grote discussed in the presentation how Opaa! would offer in addition to the specialty salad, two hot entrees daily in the high school, middle school, and elementary schools.
Under the new contract, there would continue to be an ala carte items available for purchase and a program offered each morning called Second Chance Breakfast for students in the high school and middle school for students unable to have breakfast at home.
“We started that program at the end of last year and it has been amazing,” Grote said. “We have seen double the participation this year.”
Grote said since the company was awarded the contract five years ago, the implementation of Opaa! To Go has been a success for students in a hurry to get through the line and to join their friends in the cafeteria.
“Earlier this week, we served between 315 and 375 Opaa! To Go meals,” Grote said.
In addition to their work in the kitchen preparing the daily meals, Grote said the Opaa! staff have worked to bring in “fun events to the school” such as breakfast recipe contests, a health and wellness fair, catering events for special events, and other programs that help students become engaged in the decision making process of what food is being served in the cafeteria.
Another Opaa! company official discussed how in the company’s bid they were not proposing a rate increase for 2019-2020 school year and that 98 percent of the schools with a current Opaa! bid resign with the food service provider.
In discussions following the presentation, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Matthew Frederickson said he had called references from several schools to get some perspective on both Thrive and Opaa!
“Most of the schools with Thrive are pretty small schools, but everyone was pleased with their product,” Frederickson said. He said he heard nothing negative about Opaa! either.
When comparing the two companies, Frederickson said he believed that Opaa! had a slight advantage over Thrive, despite the price differential. However the local superintendent did not recommend one company over the other during the school board’s meeting last month.
School Board President Bob Kirkpatrick then polled the school administrators present about their thoughts on Opaa! The administrators all spoke in favor of the company.
When asked about taking a vote to award the contract, the members of the board agreed that they would need more time to make a decision.
For Scott Smith, a member of the board of education, he wanted more time to review the numbers regarding the $60,000 cost savings.
Board member Roger Colbert encouraged the board of education to consider all that could be done with $60,000 per year in cost savings.
“I just look at $60,000 a year and think that money is going to a long way towards a new bus, or how it is more than one teacher’s salary, and that if we are serious about going to the public about refinancing bonds or anything else, then it would be hard to do it with a straight face if we say we did our best as financial stewards but ignored $60,000 a year in savings.”