Company Hiking Prices for Corrections Food
Aramark Correctional Services negotiates 8% price hike for food served at county facilities.
The corporation that supplies the food for the Milwaukee County Jail, its Community Reintegration Center (CRC) and juvenile justice facility is trying to raise the prices by 8% in its contract with the county.
Aramark Correctional Services LLC, a subsidiary of the Aramark Corporation, is seeking to increase the prices in its contract to deal with “unprecedented national inflation in food costs,” according to a letter written by Lauren Kandrac, Aramark director of strategic development.
All food costs increased by 9.9% in 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and are expected to increase by 7.9% in 2023. “We have diligently worked to keep the cost as low as possible, but the options are limited,” Kandrac said.
Chantell Jewell, CRC director, told the board’s Finance Committee that Aramark initially approached them seeking an 11% increase in the contract and the CRC negotiated the company down to 8.3%. The difference between the initial ask and the agreed-upon increase is that they were each based on a different metric in the Consumer Price Index: 11.8% being the highest estimate for inflation in 2023 for “Food At Home” and 8.3% being the average of inflation estimates for “Food Away From Home” this year.
They are two different metrics used in the Consumer Price Index. The former generally represents food purchased at grocery stores and the latter food purchased anywhere else.
The latest one-year contract with Aramark was approved by the Milwaukee County Board in December 2022. It left room for a 2% increase, but not an 8% increase, so CRC officials returned to the board this month seeking to amend the county’s contract.
A fiscal impact report prepared by the CRC shows that the contract change should not have an impact on the budget. Food costs are determined in part by the population levels at the CRC, the Milwaukee County Jail and also the Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center, and the fiscal note estimates it will cost approximately $3 million this year, including the 8% contract increase. But it turns out enough funds were included in the budget to cover this.
Aramark is also supposed to improve the food on offer at the CRC this year, and there was extra funding put in the budget to do it. Asked by Sup. Peter Burgelis what this food improvement entails, Aramark District Manager Charles Shuster said, “We did do some menu modifications along with that pricing and we did increase it another 100 calories. We did increase some of the baked goods’ sizes and portion sizes for the products, and did take out some of the items that aren’t palatable or aren’t accepted by the population.”
Aramark has been widely criticized for the quality of the food it serves in Milwaukee’s correctional institutions. And the board has been moving the county toward ending private contracting for these operations and bringing them in-house. The county is expected to begin a search in the coming month for a consultant that can help the county bring the food services in-house, according to Tony MacLellan, RFP Administrator for the county.
On top of that, an amendment to the legislation approving Aramark’s 2023 contract also directed the county to develop a budget and a plan for bringing commissary services in-house. Aramark currently provides both commissary and regular food services in the county’s secure facilities. Sup. Ryan Clancy, who authored the amendment, has charged that “the existence of a monopoly at the CRC and jail means that Aramark, which is a private company has a vested interest in serving food which is so inedible and so terrible that they increase sales at the commissary.”
Clancy had initially sought to block Aramark’s new contract. But county officials told the board that without a contract in place, the county would not have food services in its secure facilities.
Supervisors on the board’s Committee on Finance, with the exception of Sup. Juan Miguel Martinez, voted to approve the price increase in the Aramark contract.
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