Kevin Krueger: Building Sustainable Food Programs at Scale

For Kevin Krueger—the Procurement and Sustainability Manager at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and a Refresh Working Group Member—the hospital cafeteria plays a vital role in the fight to prevent, treat, and cure catastrophic pediatric diseases. In this role, he is responsible for sourcing well over one million meals a year

Inspired by the innovative food programs emphasizing sourcing and sustainability at tech company headquarters in the Bay Area, Kevin has worked for the past four years to grow the infrastructure for a sustainable food program at St. Jude. He has introduced urban farming, data-driven solutions, and partnerships with food hubs dedicated to local sourcing to feed patients, staff, and visitors healthier, more sustainable foods. 

Urban Farming

For a service operation that provides up to 2,400 daily meals at lunchtime alone, sustainable sourcing can pose both fiscal and logistical challenges. But he understands the critical role that large institutions play in ensuring a healthy food supply chain and spurring market shifts. One method Kevin uses to confront those challenges is the revitalization of the Hospital’s urban farm, St. Jude Garden. This two-acre property yielded over 7,000 pounds of nutrient-rich produce last year. Since his arrival, Kevin has turned the garden into the first in Tennessee and one of the first campus programs in the nation to acquire GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) and GHP (Good Handling Practices) certification. The Hospital also acquires hundreds of thousands of pounds of external produce annually. 

As Kevin explains, St. Jude has “a growing employee base who’s come to expect us to be thoughtful in sourcing their food.” To deliver on that expectation, St. Jude partnered with Memphis Tilth, a group that advocates for “an economically sustainable, socially equitable, and environmentally sound local food system.” Through that partnership, St. Jude committed to buying 20,000 pounds of locally farmed produce in 2018 alone. Far beyond the immediate impact for the Hospital and its surrounding community, these practices set an important precedent for ethical sourcing and serves as a model for procurement practices that other large institutions can follow. 

The Role of Data in Purchasing Programs 

“In food service, the story about data is mostly about how hard it is to collect,” Kevin observes. With hundreds of thousands of pounds of food to purchase annually, the role of data in facilitating both a sustainable and efficient food program is key. To accurately track the number of transactions the organization logs in a given period, they use up-to-date Point-of-Sale software. They also have a production management system in place through which chefs can measure waste and refine portioning for the future. “The most promising idea that AI holds is just to be able to tell us an accurate story about where we currently are,” he notes. “Then we could take that information to better inform our choices.”

Smarter Sustainability Solutions

Kevin explains that “surprisingly complicated tech solutions allow food providers to get a clear handle on the people they serve.” Technologies that can monitor and gather accurate information about what and how people eat can provide the critical data needed to advance sustainable food programs. 

This data can be used not only to make better purchasing decisions but also to incorporate more effective strategies for chef action stations by reducing wait time at on-demand food preparation stands, for example. But like all other sectors adopting data-driven technologies, food providers and vendors are familiarizing themselves with the appropriate parameters of data use and collection practices that come along with modernization.

He calls sourcing and procurement officers—like himself—“gatekeepers in the supply chain because we have the power and opportunity to foster change.” Kevin and his team at St. Jude are exploring how new technologies can support the transition to a more sustainable food supply chain, an integral step in the path toward a cancer-free future.

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