Food and Beverage Purchasing

Credit Language

OP 7: Food and Beverage Purchasing – version 2.2

Data Accuracy Video

Frequently Asked Questions

How has this credit changed between STARS 2.1 to 2.2?

Substantive changes have been made to this credit. Whereas STARS 2.1 recognized local, community-based products that may or may not have been sustainably produced, the new version only recognizes products that are sustainably or ethically produced. A comprehensive list of differences can be found in the 2.2 Summary of changes. In addition, see the FAQs about the new version.

What type of food and beverage inventory is required for this credit?

This credit requires one of the following:

  • A completed STARS Food and Beverage Purchasing Inventory (see Templates & Tools, below)
  • An alternative inventory that includes all of the following information for each product:
    • Product name, label, or brand
    • Product description/type
    • Recognized sustainability standard met (e.g., third party certification or ecolabel)

A common mistake is omitting or not providing enough detail to justify each’s product’s inclusion.

Do local food purchases count for this credit?

A local product must be sustainably/ethically produced or plant-based to qualify. In other words, a product does not qualify solely on the basis of its point of origin. See FAQs about the new version for more information.

How do I identify plant-based foods?

The simplest approach is to count as plant-based only those broad categories of food and beverage products for which all of the items are clearly plant-based, for example:

  • Produce
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes and soy foods
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Plant oils
  • Herbs and spices
  • Coffee and tea

Alternatively, you could estimate your institution’s plant-based spend by subtracting expenditures on multi-ingredient products, processed foods, and animal products (i.e., meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, and dairy) from total expenditures.

These approaches are recommended because they are much less time-intensive than conducting a line item inventory of all food and beverage products and are still likely to capture the vast majority of plant-based purchases. Classification must be done conservatively, however, to exclude categories that are apt to include animal-derived or ultra-processed foods. For example, broad categories of “prepared foods” would need to be excluded. Likewise, a category of “fruit juice” could be included, but a category of “fruit drinks” (which may include fruit-flavored soft drinks or water) would not. For further reference, here are some suggested categories to include as plant-based based on UNSPSC and GDSN codes. 

If the data are readily available, however, and you want to take a deeper dive, you may also include simple processed foods that are clearly plant-based, as well as vegetarian/vegan alternatives to meat and dairy. Guidance on identifying plant-based foods at this level of detail is available here

Unlike certified products, it is NOT required that you include itemized information about every product counted as a plant-based food. The percentage of expenditures on plant-based products is sufficient.

How can I determine if more than half of the ingredients in a product meet the criteria?

The first question to ask is whether there is good reason to believe this product could qualify for the STARS credit. For example:

  • Does the product carry a third party certification?
  • Is the product advertised as “sustainably grown”, “organic”, “humane”, or “fairly traded”?
  • Have dining staff suggested that the product may qualify?

As an example, bread from a local bakery is unlikely to qualify unless the bakery is making some kind of sustainability claim about the product, such as “organic”. Instead of spending a lot of time investigating products that don’t have any apparent sustainability attributes, it is much more efficient to focus on products that have sustainability claims and verify that those claims meet the STARS criteria.

Do “Certified Non-GMO” products count?

GMO-free foods and Certified Non-GMO foods do not count in the absence of another qualifying attribute. In order for a product to count, it must be sustainably or ethically produced as determined by one or more of the standards listed in Standards and Terms. For example, GMO-free corn would count as sustainable/ethical if it were also certified Organic.

Do farmed fish and seafood products qualify?

The credit does not address farmed fish and seafood or aquaculture-specific certifications directly. A farmed product may qualify, however, if it is identified as Best Choice, Certified, or Good Alternative by Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. The seafood recommendation engine administered by FishChoice is also a useful tool in identifying Seafood Watch recommended products (both farmed and wild-caught).

Are there any qualifying standards or ecolabels not listed in the credit?

The landscape of sustainability standards and certifications is always evolving. Therefore, the credit language provides a pathway for new or otherwise unlisted programs to qualify. Products that meet any of the following criteria may be reported as sustainably or ethically produced:

Please email stars@aashe.org to inquire about the eligibility of specific products or programs.

Can purchases of non-edible food accessory products be counted?

No. Purchases of non-edible food accessory products should not be included in your calculations.

Resources, Templates & Tools

Example Responses

  • Ball State University – Used the STARS 2.2 inventory. Good reporting example for institutions claiming institution affirmed production through a campus farm.
  • Elon University – Good reporting example using the STARS 2.2 inventory template. The institution uses a combination of purchasing tracking software and weekly self-reporting to log 3rd party certified and plant-based purchases.
  • Michigan State University – Good detail provided for the institution affirmed production section. Only counts short supply chain items.
  • Susquehanna University – Good reporting example using the STARS 2.2 inventory template with clear and organized responses. All certified purchases and plant based foods listed meet the 2.2 standards.
  • University of New Hampshire – Comprehensive and well-organized inventory. Utilizes the STARS 2.2 Food & Beverage inventory template.
  • University of St. Thomas – Good reporting example for institutions wishing to only report on plant-based foods. Utilizes the STARS 2.2 Food & Beverage inventory template.
  • University of Utah – Good reporting example of an institution referencing its Real Food Calculator inventory and results that have been validated by the Real Food Challenge.
  • University of Vermont – Good reporting example of an institution referencing its Real Food Calculator inventory and results that have been validated by the Real Food Challenge. Nice example of collaboration for continuous tracking and improvement.

Common Issues Identified During Review

  • Numeric outlier – Reporting a sustainably or ethically produced percentage of 20% or more.  If a higher percentage is reported, check closely for the issues below (particularly counting items that do not meet the Version 2.2 guidelines).  
  • Numeric outlier – Reporting a plant-based foods percentage of 80% or more. If a higher percentage is reported, this may indicate inconsistency in how plant-based foods are defined and/or calculated.
  • For transparency and to help ensure comparability, a completed STARS Food and Beverage Purchasing Inventory template or equivalent inventory must be provided to document purchases that qualify as sustainably or ethically produced. The inventory must justify each product’s inclusion and include, at minimum: Product name, label, or brand; Product description/type; Recognized sustainability standard met (e.g., third party certification or ecolabel).
  • If claiming products under the institution-affirmed exemption, ALL of the following criteria must be met:
  • Sampling – Institutions must track food and beverage purchases for a 12-month consecutive period or use a representative sample that includes data from a full academic term or similar period. When using samples, institutions must accommodate for seasonal and other variations in food and beverage availability and purchasing.

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