The U.S. Air Force has awarded a second contract in its ongoing effort to improve its food service to airmen.
Launched in 2010, the Food Transformation Initiative (FTI) would carry out best practices to improve Air Force food service, especially through the expertise of outside vendors.
The first $10.3 million contract went to food service giant Aramark of Philadelphia. The new contract of $10.2 million was awarded Aug. 6 to Sodexo of Gaithersburg, Md. Aramark sought to improve food service at six test bases. Sodexo will be making changes at seven more.
The FTI is a necessary response to ongoing budget cuts, said Fred McKenney, chief of food and beverage in the Air Force Personnel Center Directorate of Services, San Antonio. “We saw a trend toward reduced operational hours of the dining facilities. In some cases, we have facilities that were completely closing,” he said.
In many instances, service members might have a two-hour window in which to grab a meal, while reduced service hours mean there may be no dining hall available during that timeframe. “If you missed that window, you weren’t going to eat in the dining facility,” McKenney said. That left many meal ticket holders paying out of pocket.
FTI has brought about positive changes, McKenney said. Dining facilities are open 112 hours a week on average, up from 55 hours a week at the start of the program. Meal card holders have gone from eating one meal a day on their cards in fiscal 2010 to two meals a day in fiscal 2012. This suggests the system has become more appealing and more accessible, McKenney said.
Sodexo is tasked with continuing improvements, while adding greater variety to the menu, with fresh grilled foods and Asian items. “It’s more like what you would see off the base, as opposed to just liver and onions,” McKenney said.
Aramark also has begun building an infrastructure to serve card holders outside the dining hall, setting up food service operations at bowling centers, golf courses, community centers and elsewhere.
“We served 140,000 meals outside of the dining facilities in the first year,” McKenney said. “So now it is more convenient for where they live or where they work. If they’ve got 15 minutes for lunch and the club is right beside where they work, this presents a new opportunity to them that they never had. It’s all about improving their quality of life.”
Most significant perhaps are the overall numbers. The total of meals served in the past year has gone up 500,000 meals, or 36 percent. At the same time, the overall cost of food service has declined by about 8 percent, McKenney said.