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EDITORIAL COMMENT: The Serving Line


September 2014
Prime Vendor, Staying the Course?

Sometimes it takes the perspective acquired through years of experience to understand the changes that brought about modern military food service.

One thought expressed by Jack Van Zanten last month in response to a question about what he considers the most significant change to happen during his 43-year Army career, 39 years of it in food service, prompts a turn of the head to look at where the road is leading.

Pausing only briefly when asked, Van Zanten ranked the Subsistence Prime Vendor system as the most significant change in military food service since he enlisted in October 1971. Short of carte blanche, he said, the prime vendor system opened the doors for dining facility managers to access many more options than before, including brands familiar to service members.

Implemented by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) in 1993, the Subsistence Prime Vendor program uses commercial distributors to directly deliver a full range of food items and beverages in designated geographic areas. Purchases are negotiated using best-value source solicitation procedures based on factors other than cost or price alone.

Renewable contracts emphasize quality, availability and minimum delivery lead time with supplies received within 48 hours of an order placed.

Similar programs, both established in 1991 for nonappropriated-fund food purchases, are the Army Installation Management Commandís (IMCOM) Joint Services Prime Vendor Program (JSPVP) and the Air Force Nonappropriated Fund Prime Vendor III program (PVIII).

Both JSPVP and AFNAFPO PVIII achieve savings on purchases of food and related items through negotiated multi-year contracts, rebates and off-invoice discounts.

Recently, DLA Troop Support and JSPVP began consolidating requirements, contracting with only a few suppliers selected for each specific item category as part of a goal to reduce costs on annual purchases.

Manufacturers and suppliers are concerned that plans to consolidate purchasing through these prime vendor programs may result in fewer business opportunities.

A review of the Prime Vendor directory in this issue shows how the reverse-auction process and other techniques are causing incumbent contract holders to be replaced and changing the community of vendors.

The question when looking ahead is whether, as product-specific contracts become consolidated, the familiar programs will continue in form and foster business relationships to the degree they have over the last 20 years.

When looking back 20 years from now, will the prime vendor concept still be considered the most significant change in food service all the way back to Van Zantenís 1970s perspective? Or, will the changes being implemented now cause the biggest transformation in the prime vendor system since its inception, or supersede it entirely?

Since the prime vendor programs furnish the supplies that feed warfighters, it is essential that any changes made to achieve cost savings be balanced against satisfying service membersí expectations. Bottom line: quality must come first.