BANGOR — The University of Maine System will award its five-year dining services contract, worth $12 million annually, to Sodexo, a global giant making big promises about serving up local food in campus cafeterias, university officials announced Tuesday. Based on current expenditures, that could translate to over $2 million in annual sales for Maine producers, farmers and harvesters.

When the university system made a call for bids on the new contract last year, it committed to locally sourcing 20 percent of food served to about 3,000 meal-plan students at its campuses in Augusta, Farmington, Fort Kent, Machias, Presque Isle and the University of Southern Maine by 2020.

The university cited Sodexo’s commitment to go beyond that goal by committing to source between 25 percent and 30 percent locally. Sodexo will replace Aramark, another food service company with worldwide reach that has held the contract for 10 years.

The University of Maine, which administers its own food service program in Orono to about 4,000 meal plan participants, already buys about 18 percent of its food from Maine vendors. It, too, has committed to the 20 percent by 2020 goal established by the University of Maine System’s board of trustees in May.

A fledgling, entirely Maine-based group, the Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative, also made a bid for the contract, a move that drew national media attention. Self-described as “the nation’s first farm-to-institution food cooperative,” the group set high goals for itself, pledging to meet the 20 percent goal in its first contract year and then exceed it incrementally, with an aim to be at 30 percent by 2021.

“We’re certainly disappointed,” said Ron Adams, the group’s secretary and former food service director for Portland public schools, where he made it a priority to put Maine foods on school menus, from local haddock to tofu and blueberries.


This would have been Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative’s first contract, and President Dave Seddon acknowledged they had aimed high and came into the bidding process as the underdog.

“This has been the biggest apple on the tree,” Seddon said. “So you go for that.”

But he and Adams said they believe the cooperative played a role in pushing Sodexo to up its commitment to local foods, which is good for the Maine food economy.

“In the big picture, it is a win for the state of Maine and a big win for the university,” Adams said.

The group said their work is far from done. They’re meeting with the Barron Center in Portland and other institutions later this month and are working toward contracts with some smaller “apples.”

Seddon said they hope that Sodexo, which also provides food services to the University of New England, Thomas College and Southern Maine Community College, will both live up to the UMaine System contract and ramp up its purchasing of local foods for other institutions it serves.


“That would be the goal,” said Sodexo Regional Vice President Phil Harty.

In Vermont, Sodexo serves most of the campuses in the state, Harty said, and thus “we are able to leverage our size to purchase more local.” Harty said Sodexo is buying about 15 percent of its food locally in Vermont, where homegrown dairy is particularly bountiful.

Getting to that 30 percent local target won’t be easy, he acknowledged, because of challenges like Maine’s short growing season, but it might be easier here than in the Green Mountain state.

“I believe Maine will have more to offer,” Harty said.

“What it comes down to is partnering in the community. It’s a task that takes some time, to build those relationships.” It will take some “matchmaking,” he said, to get producers into the supply system.

“When we first started we had a lot of these local farmers that wanted to drop produce off at the back dock,” Harty said. “That’s not sustainable. It’s not safe.”


Assisting with all this matchmaking will be Maeve McInnis, new director for Sodexo’s Maine Course Program, which was launched in June to work specifically on serving local and sustainably harvested food at institutions and companies throughout Maine. McInnis, originally from Cape Neddick, has a master’s degree in environmental policy and sustainability management with a specialization in food and the environment.

The university system contract defines local food as anything grown or produced within 175 miles of any of its campuses.

“That a proven institutional vendor like Sodexo can commit to sourcing at least 25 percent of the food it would serve in our dining halls from local sources is a testament to the growing strength and reach of the Maine food economy,” James H. Page, chancellor of the University of Maine System, said in a press release.

Sodexo also agreed to an effort to retain the current nonmanagement dining staff and to invest up to $14 million in campus facilities, catering, internships and other activities.


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