Education

University of Kentucky to stop counting Coke and ice as ‘local’ food

University of Kentucky student Sarah Harvey filled her glass with soda with her dinner at The 90 in August 2015. UK has announced that food-service vendor Aramark will no longer list soft drinks and ice sales among its local food purchases.
University of Kentucky student Sarah Harvey filled her glass with soda with her dinner at The 90 in August 2015. UK has announced that food-service vendor Aramark will no longer list soft drinks and ice sales among its local food purchases. mcornelison@herald-leader.com

Soft drinks and ice still made up a large portion of “local” food purchases by the University of Kentucky last school year, but starting now, UK will no longer count them in that category.

UK will change the definition of local food purchases, removing Kentucky-based distributors with no local farm impact, in its $245 million contract with Aramark, which took over UK’s food services in 2014.

“This is a really positive step forward,” said Ashton Potter Wright, local food coordinator for Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. “We hope it will provide greater opportunity for Kentucky farmers.”

Aramark is required to buy 20 percent of its food and drink from Kentucky farmers and local food producers, but an open records request by the Herald-Leader revealed that more than $1 million spent on local products was for Coca-Cola and ice in the 2014-15 school year.

More than $1 millionin “local” purchases went for Coke and ice

“We believe that taking those products out of our assessment of local food purchasing impact and performance will give us a clearer and stronger sense of the impact on the local and state food economies,” said Nancy Cox, dean of the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “Everyone — and all of our partners — want the same thing: a vibrant dining service for our campus community and one that strongly supports the development of a robust food and agribusiness economy.”

As part of the contract, Aramark has spent about $70 million on new dining facilities and provided $5 million to start the UK Food Connection, an institute aimed at improving local food consumption. Food Connection officials now analyze Aramark’s food purchases to determine their origin, categorizing vendors as Kentucky-based, with either a majority or a minority of products that come from Kentucky farmers.

According to a new report for 2015-2016, Aramark spent about $10 million total on UK Dining. Of that, $2,833,626 came from local and Kentucky Proud purchases, or about 28 percent of Aramark’s total purchases. However, purchases of soft drinks and ice were more than$1 million, making up more than one third of local purchases.

UK defines local as any product sourced from Fayette and its six adjoining counties; Kentucky Proud is a state branding program operated by the state Department of Agriculture, and it can include food products grown or processed in Kentucky. UK formerly counted Coca-Cola products as local because the company has a distribution plant in Lexington.

About 10 percent of local purchases, $292,276, were made from Kentucky food businesses, with a majority of their products sourced from Kentucky farms. That amount nearly doubled from the year before. These companies include Boone Creek Creamery, which provides cheese, and Marksbury Farms, which provides meat. The report didn’t break down exactly how much was spent at each company, but purchases from companies in this category doubled from the year before.

Total local food purchases went up about $470,000, or almost 20 percent, from fiscal year 2015 to fiscal year 2016 .

“All the numbers are moving in a positive direction,” said Lilian Brislen, executive director of the Food Connection. “It’s a more accurate representation of farm impact than last year.”

Brislen said the Food Connection will continue to work with partners, such as Bluegrass Farm to Table, to increase UK’s impact on local farm production.

“We’re learning more about the food chain, what the barriers and bottlenecks are,” she said. “The goal of the Food Connection is to grow and expand the supply chain.”

The report covers only restaurants run by UK dining, such as the main cafeterias or Ovid’s Cafe. It does not include on-campus franchisees such as Steak ’n Shake.

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford

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