October 20, 2022 by HCDE Communications
Choice Partners’ “King’s Court” was abuzz last week with students, nutrition directors, and vendors who gathered for the Renaissance-themed Child Nutrition & Product Expo and Vendor Exhibit at the Humble Civic Center.
Held annually, the two-day event provides Choice Partners cooperative vendors the opportunity to network and receive feedback from members.
Attendees set a record on the first day of the event, the Child Nutrition and Product Expo—or “The King’s Feast”—with more than 500 participants. Among the eventgoers were 200 students from eight area school districts.
“What they do is they walk around and taste all the products, and then they get to rank them on an app,” said Choice Partners Assistant Director Trisha Prestigiacomo. “Food service directors take that back to their districts and use that information when planning their menus. It’s really important for students to get to test the product because their taste buds are different from adults.”
Renaissance-clad attendees made their way around the more than 120 food and product vendors, who are preparing to release new food offerings after a few years of manufacturing limitations due to COVID-19.
“The kids are a lot more educated than they’ve ever been,” said Martha Singley, a sales representative from Hanks Brokerage. “Kids eat different things now, not just chicken tenders. Healthy is not scary anymore.”
For Nancy Montalvo, Splendora ISD’s director for child nutrition, the event is not just insightful for their menu planning but also provides students in the district’s culinary program to experience potential food options.
“I am really excited about some Cajun chicken that I just found because it would complement our salads,” she said. “We do a lot of scratch cooking at our district, and some of the items will pair nicely with what we already serve. We have to consider the nutritional values like calories and sodium to stay within our guidelines, but we can make the flavor profile fit within the nutritional parameters.”
As school nutrition directors evaluated quality, nutritional value, and student tastes, Choice Partners gathered the information needed to plan for future food contract purchases for school districts. Food is purchased annually by school districts in the Harris County area for millions of student lunches through Choice Partners cooperative contracts.
The following day, the co-op’s “Renaissance Marketplace” Vendor Exhibit welcomed members from across the country and more than 75 vendors in the facilities, maintenance, and commodities space.
“Probably a third or so of our members are school districts, but they also include junior and community colleges, universities, county municipalities, MUD districts, and not-for-profit organizations like United Way,” said Senior Director of Choice Partners, Jeff Drury. “A lot of people using our contracts, mainly a lot of the governmental entities, use our contracts to help them stay legally compliant and save time and money.”
For many, the main draw to attending the vendor exhibit is the face-to-face connections.
“It’s my first time coming here to the Civic Center,” said Paulyssa Hamilton from AVANCE Houston. “I hope to be able to make it to all the booths and put faces with names and walk away with relationships that AVANCE can take forward and help us build.”
Ian Allan from Lab Resources, a career and technical education (CTE) and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) vendor, says the event allows his company to meet with representatives from smaller school districts that can’t travel out of state.
“This is one of my favorite conferences to attend because of how Choice Partners treats their vendors,” he affirmed. “A conference like this is beneficial for us to attend because we keep up with all the new technology and bring it to local school districts.”
Amazon Business, a new vendor, attracted a lot of attention from attendees seeking to shop for office supplies easily.
“We write the contracts, and one vendor can take that contract and go call on the City of Houston, City of Dallas, Austin ISD, the University of Texas—all those with one contract—instead of having to respond to multiple RFPs all the time,” said Drury. “So that’s really our value in the marketplace.”
Choice Partners purchasing cooperative offers quality, legal procurement, and contract solutions to meet government purchasing requirements. For more information about Choice Partners and the buying power through the co-op, visit ChoicePartners.org.