Purpose/Objectives Schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) receive a portion of their annual federal funding as commodity entitlement foods—now called USDA Foods—rather than cash payments. Due to rising food prices in recent years, it has been recommended that schools compare the costs and benefits of commodity and commercial foods. The purpose of this research was to measure the price and supply consistency of USDA Foods from the school district perspective. Methods Data from 586 school ordering sites in Minnesota from school year (SY) 2005-6 to SY 2008-9 was assessed. Commodity prices demonstrated to schools at the ordering stage were compared to final prices (or entitlement charges), quantities ordered were compared to quantities received, and delivery timing was assessed. Results Final prices for USDA Foods were consistently different from the prices that school districts had seen at the time they placed orders. Over the four years studied, the average one-year price change across all food groups was an increase of 12 percent. School districts received the same quantity of regular packaged commodities as ordered for only 54 percent of orders, and 9 percent of orders were delivered late to the state warehouse. These estimates contributed to a cost analysis that directly compared the full procurement cost of USDA Foods to equivalent commercial foods, and found that the full cost for USDA Foods was, on average, consistently higher for school districts. Applications to Child Nutrition Professionals Changes to commodity prices, order quantities and delivery timing create extra costs for school districts in terms of extra labor, transportation and storage. Data collection to allow direct comparison of prices and supply factors for commodity and commercial foods may assist school districts and administering agencies with food procurement decisions
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