RANDOLPH, Vt. (AP) — International food service company Sodexo on Thursday pledged to buy more Vermont-produced food for the colleges, schools and businesses it serves in the state, saying that will lead to more local jobs and provide the freshest, best-quality food to its customers.
Last year, the company bought more than $16 million worth of Vermont products, which was a 15 percent increase over the year before, said Phil Hardy, its regional vice president for operations.
The Vermont First Pledge "is a win-win commitment that is not only good for Vermont but good for Sodexo," he said, as demand for locally produced food rises.
The formal commitment grew out of a request in 2010 by the leadership at the University of Vermont, where 15 percent of the food is now from within the state, he said.
"We're doing this because implementing sustainable business practice is important to Sodexo and it's the right thing to do. And we are doing this because we see what Vermont has accomplished" with its local food, he said.
Sodexo, a French company with headquarters in Paris, provides 34,000 meals a day in Vermont but could not say how much of the food is locally produced. As part of the formal commitment, the company will hire a local foods coordinator who will more closely track those numbers, Hardy said.
"The Vermont pledge will leverage Sodexo's purchasing power to help increase local sourcing of products and produce. We believe we can increase the purchasing of local foods in Vermont dramatically," he said.
Sodexo serves Castleton, Johnson and Lyndon state colleges, Vermont Technical College, the University of Vermont, Norwich University, South Vermont College, St. Michael's College, North Country Supervisory Union, Husky Injection Molding, Mt. Ascutney Hospital, Rutland City public schools, St. Johnsbury Academy, Vermont Student Assistance Corporation and World Learning Center. Hardy said the company could one day distribute Vermont-labeled products out of state.
The formal commitment comes after several years of talks and months of discussion with Vermont Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross.
"Sodexo, a multinational company, at some level, has become a Vermont company today making the pledge to us that they're going to work with all of us to help us grow our economy and our community and supply the product we all want," Ross said.