How much say are we getting?

UNB might get a new food provider this year.
Photo UNB might get a new food provider this year.

Consultation for the upcoming UNB food contract negotiations is not being done properly, says  Marc Gauvin, UNBSU’s vice president finance.

The contract with Sodexo, who is UNB’s current food provider, is up in April. With the contract ending, this means other food providers can bid to take over. Food providers will bid on a Request for Proposal (RFP), which basically outlines the requirements the food provider must meet if they get the contract.

The RFP was put together with consultation from a selection committee consisting of different campus representatives.  Gauvin represents undergraduate students on the committee.  He said the consultation with the selection committee was not sufficient.

“It didn’t go over well, in my mind,” said Gauvin.

He said the selection committee met a few days before the RFP came out, and the meeting only lasted two hours. He said the meeting felt rushed, and some documents weren’t sent out until the day of the meeting.

“It almost seemed like the point of the meeting was to have it just for the sake of saying, ‘We had a meeting. We met with these people, so we went through the proper avenues’,” said Gauvin.

“I don’t even know why it’s [the selection committee] called that. We didn’t do any selections. There was no voting.”

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Gauvin said many of the committee members’ ideas didn’t make it into the RFP, and many were dismissed.

“There wasn’t a lot of input that was taken favourably from me and the other representatives,” he said.

Some of the suggestions that didn’t make it include, making the contract for five years instead of ten years. Another was to bring in a local pizzeria and have one of the cafés be switched to a local business.

However, some things which did get in was a full-service Tim Hortons, a requirement of 30 per cent of food materials purchased to be produced in the Atlantic region, and to have Booster Juice excluded in the contract so it will be able to be run separately from the provider.

James Brown, executive director of residential life, campus and conference services, is in charge of the contract negotiations. He said the length of the selection committee’s meeting should be put in the context of the entire process.

“We began consultation on this, back in September,” said Brown. “At the point of the meeting, I already had a survey response from residence students, survey responses from retail customers, largely prepared by the student union.”

Brown said he also had a report and recommendations from the UNBSU about what should be put into the RFP. He said these things were already taken into account when the selection committee met.  He said the committee had been sent the RFP itself two days before the meeting, and the documents sent the day of, were just attachments, such as floor plans.

According to Brown, who has a lot of experience with food contract negotiations, only he can be present at the final contract negotiation with the food provider.

“You don’t negotiate with a committee,” said Brown. “I will continue to consult the committee, but I’m the negotiator for the university, and I’m the one who will ultimately sign my name to the contract.”

Unhappy with the whole process, the UNBSU food committee is taking action. They will be launching an awareness and marketing campaign in the coming weeks to educate students on what’s going on. Gauvin said they will continue to push for quality and a provision in the contract that will hold the food provider accountable.

“I think that food on campus should be seen as an investment, rather than an expense to the university,” said Gauvin. “If you’re investing into the education of students, you should also be investing into the health and happiness of students.”

“When you have a happy and healthy campus, you create a higher morale amongst students. That’s just something we want the university to be aware of, instead of just thinking of it as dollars and cents.”

As for committee members being barred from the negotiation table, Gauvin said until he sees documented proof, the UNBSU will push for that too.

“If there’s some university document [James Brown] can show me that [we shouldn’t be in negotiations], that’s fine. But if it’s just him saying that, then obviously, we’re going to push to get in there,” He said.

Contract negotiations begin in mid-March, with possible food providers submitting their proposals by March 4.