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Supplier Diversity: Empowering People & Businesses

Community |  1.14.2020

As we look to the future of responsible food sourcing, there are three critical components driving business growth and sustainability: knowing where our food comes from, how it is processed, and who supplies it. As a managed services organization, we rely on thousands of business relationships to provide services across food, facilities, and uniforms 365 days a year. We are intentional with these supplier-distributor partnerships, knowing they form the heart of our enterprise.

“At Aramark, our goals for strategic sourcing, supply chain sustainability, and diversity and inclusion are fully integrated,” says Natily Santos, Associate Vice President of Specialty Supply Chain. “One major way this takes shape is with supplier diversity.”

Supplier Diversity is a business strategy that creates a more transparent and inclusive supply chain, resulting in a broader supplier base that can drive competition and innovation efforts. A diverse-owned business is generally one that is 51% owned, by individuals who are women, ethnic minorities, veterans, LGBTQ, or disabled. We continue to grow diverse business spend to make up a meaningful portion of our supply chain by 2025.

“Supplier diversity is a business imperative that drives results and community impact,” Santos adds.

Why it's Good Business

Much more than a feel-good concept, supplier diversity has a tangible impact on both sides of the equation. 

For a company like ours, it means ensuring flexibility to incorporate more locally derived products and suppliers into every contract. For small and diverse businesses, it can be a bridge to new markets and the next level of success. When a farmer or entrepreneur joins our supply chain, they benefit not only from the revenue, but also the exposure to new customers, employment security, and capacity-building.

“Small and diverse businesses may not be as large, but they are a driving force of the economy, and regularly one of the greatest sources of job growth in this economy” Santos shares. “We want to be a good partner to them by creating opportunities for them to continue to grow.” 

The effect multiplies when you consider not just spend but also the jobs, income, and local tax revenue a supplier diversity strategy can generate. In fiscal year 2019, our supplier diversity initiatives supported over 14,000 jobs across the United States for a total economic impact of $1.9 billion.

For Chicago-based Cesar Dovalina, Jr., founder and president of Cristina Foods, Inc., a wholesale foodservice distributor, and a partner of 30 years, a growing business means supporting more local families. “There is no greater feeling than to know you are impacting the community by providing jobs that help put food on the table.” he shares. “It’s a perpetual responsibility to sustain the business in order to sustain the jobs, but it is a challenge that gives me a very gratifying sense of accomplishment every day.” 

We encourage diversity across all levels of our supply chain and—in fact, a new Aramark reporting platform launched in 2018 has enabled us to further grow and sustain small and diverse-owned suppliers beyond our direct supplier relationships. The result: our small and diverse-owned program spend has grown 45% from the prior year. Additionally, we require all our large suppliers and distributors to work with local, small businesses and diverse suppliers whenever applicable. 

Reflecting Our Communities

Supplier diversity makes sense in today’s marketplace for several reasons. Not only can it drive competition and innovation, but it speaks to the people we serve. As the United States has become increasingly diverse, up-and-coming Generation Z prizes food that is both local and authentic. 

“Consumers want products and brands that are culturally relevant to them,” says Santos. “Supplier diversity is one way we can ensure our supply chain reflects the communities in which we live and work.”

Supplier diversity is baked into our procurement philosophy and process: identifying the right supplier for the right need at the right account. As a partner to our clients, we help them support their local community and economy while maintaining a steadfast commitment to supply chain competitiveness, quality, safety, and service.

Leveraging supplier relationships, nonprofit partnerships, and our own Supplier Diversity Registration Portal, we work with nearly 6,000 suppliers and subcontractors representing a roster of businesses identified as small or diverse-owned.

Small and diverse-owned businesses, the fastest growing segment of the U.S. supply chain, help us deliver on customer goals and foster economic growth in the communities we serve.

Expanding Supplier Diversity: A Case Study

“Health care and higher education institutions especially are looking for ways to reinvest in their community and workforce,” Santos notes. “Our diverse supply chain can help them achieve that, as with our recent collaboration with our client Drexel University and The Enterprise Center in West Philadelphia.” 

Launched in late 2018, the pilot program worked like this: Drexel Business Services came to the table with local procurement goals. Aramark turned to The Enterprise Center, a 30-year old community development nonprofit that houses a commercial kitchen and offers business support services for local food entrepreneurs. The Enterprise Center helped coordinate suppliers of food services and products, which we then brought to Drexel’s campuses. 

The program gave Charisse R. McGill, founder of Lokal Artisan Foods, a chance to introduce her signature French Toast Bites to the university. “Partnering with Aramark at Drexel’s Urban Eatery helped me better understand the desires of the college demographic,” McGill attests.


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“This program made it possible for these institutions to support local, small, diverse businesses,” says Santos. “We were able to identify items that aligned with the Drexel menu strategy and buy them in small amounts on a regular basis—in turn increasing the suppliers’ exposure to the university’s faculty and students.” In the time since, the participating local suppliers have been featured in catering menus, dining halls, and special events across Drexel.  

"The relationship with Drexel has been a game changer for the small local businesses. It has provided the vendors with consistent revenue and exposure to a new demographic,” says Kim Carter, Vice President at the Enterprise Center. 

What's Next

Moving forward, we seek to add new businesses to our network and deepen relationships with existing ones. That includes helping them work toward certification—something about a quarter of our 6,000 small and diverse-owned suppliers have achieved so far.

“When an eligible supplier becomes certified as a woman-owned or minority-owned business, it opens many doors,” Santos elaborates. “Access to more spend opportunities as a certified business is only the beginning— these networks can provide more resources, training, and funding to support growing businesses.”

Santos took the lead on launching an Aramark Supplier Diversity Certification Education program with Certify My Company (itself a certified woman-owned and disabled-owned business) to help our self – classified suppliers obtain these certifications. Aramark covers the costs of the webinars and coaching for targeted suppliers. Working with certified-only suppliers is an increased ask from our clients and the certification process can be cumbersome for smaller suppliers. 

Our outreach and engagement efforts also include serving as a proud corporate member of various supplier diversity development and certification organizations including the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), and Disability:IN. These partnerships enable us to provide beneficial business resources, mentorships, and networking opportunities to small and diverse business communities that can support both our supplier base as well as our clients.

“These are long-term partnerships we’re growing,” says Santos. “Watching suppliers like Cesar in Chicago and Charisse in Philadelphia expand their businesses is so gratifying—and we get to be a part of their journey.” 

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