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Increased food costs contribute to higher prices at dining facilities

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Rising food costs are contributing to an increase in prices at the Riverside Dining Facility and other dining facilities throughout the Air Force.

Food costs are not controlled locally, according to Peter King, 45th Force Support Squadron food service officer at the RDF. No one at Patrick Air Force Base has any control over the prices at the dining facility.

"Budget issues do not impact food prices at dining facilities," Fred McKenney, the Air Force Personnel Center's chief of Air Force Food and Beverage Development. "Food is purchased through the Defense Logistics Agency, and prices are calculated based on the actual cost of the item being purchased. In legacy dining facilities, cash customers also pay a congressionally directed surcharge on top of the food they select. The surcharge is set annually under public law. Food costs have increased at all of our dining facilities based on global events which have impacted the supply of particular products. For example, grain and pork costs have gone up as a result of severe droughts in certain regions. As costs rise, the menu price for some products increases accordingly."

In addition, the menus are not controlled locally either, according to King.

"The Air Force Personnel Center Services Directorate tells us what the menus will be, what recipes to use and what the prices are," he said. "We have absolutely no way to change a price. All Food Transformation Initiative bases charge the exact same price, run the same meals and use the same recipes, no matter where they are located."

To replace legacy dining facilities, AFPC's Services Directorate continues to test the Air Force Food Service program's Food Transformation Initiative, according to officials at AFSPC. FTI transforms traditional legacy dining programs by updating facilities, expanding selection and levels of service. The FTI programs are often compared to college and university student feeding programs. Under FTI, food prices are set to recover actual food costs and operational contract costs. The traditional surcharge paid in legacy dining facilities is gone.

In another aspect of FTI operations like the one located at Patrick AFB, recipes are centrally developed and tested by the AFPC Services Directorate, taking into consideration industry trends, nutrition, local tastes and regional traditions, AFSPC officials said. Food costs vary by location, based on a number of variables, to include food costs and labor rates.

FTI also affects operating hours and dining facility usage, according to McKenney. Budget cuts at some of the installations not under FTI resulted in reduced operating hours and restrictions on who can use the dining facility.

"FTI allowed us to increase hours of operation and bring more customers into the dining facilities," said Steve Bedford, chief of Air Force Food and Beverage Portfolio Operations. "At Patrick the operating hours prior to FTI were limited to only 42 hours per week. Under FTI, we were able to expand to 98 hours per week. Additionally, food variety and availability expanded greatly, and access was expanded to include the entire installation."

Food service operations at Patrick, such as the RDF, the Tides, the Commons and the golf course club house, are operated by a contractor who is often blamed for the higher prices at the RDF.

"The dining facility here is still an appropriated funds military dining facility," King said. "It is not owned by Aramark, and Aramark does not set the prices. They only manage the contract that is in place. If you compare our prices with downtown prices, you will see we are still cheaper than they are."