As camp operators look to get ready for the opening of the 2024 season, this year will prove to have added challenges. While the process of following the previous years’ playbook may have worked in the past, today’s cost increases are forcing operators to take a deeper dive into their business.

Profile photo of Fraser “Tito” McOuat, Senior Director of Operations at Camp Wenonah and Co-Chair of the recent Ontario Camp Association Inflationary pressures, especially on food and beverage products, are forcing camp operators to look at all available options to help keep rising costs in line. Foodbuy spoke with Fraser “Tito” McOuat, who is the Senior Director of Operations at Camp Wenonah and Co-Chair of the recent Ontario Camp Association conference. He outlined the challenges that lay ahead for camp operators.

“At Camp Wenonah, we are doing everything that we can to keep costs down without impacting the product. We are reviewing all purchased items to fight rising costs. Food is the biggest, or the second biggest, expense alongside our staffing costs. At times it has also been an area where many operators have taken a hands-off approach. That has to change in my opinion. We’re lucky at Camp Wenonah because we have an in-house catering team, so we look at everything to ensure we control our costs.”

Tito says he is seeing 9-15%+ increases on products, which works out to an approximate 10% blended increase. Camp Wenonah purchased over 800 different products last year. “We work with the Foodbuy team to try to make sure we are capitalizing on all their pricing and rebate programs. Having that in our back pocket provides relief on the impact of these increases. Once you get fully up and running the Foodbuy program automatically calculates and collects rebates for us, which allows us to concentrate a bit more on the camping experience, versus worrying about which eggs to buy. We spend close to half a million dollars on food and a few tweaks to what we purchase can save thousands of dollars, and that adds up.”

Tito indicated that, “One of the services I think most Camps can leverage is Foodbuy’s optimization reporting. I find the reports very helpful. Foodbuy simply compares what you are currently purchasing to programs they have contracted. You can simply skim through and identify savings without having to search for products and pricing or send staff to Costco to check on prices.” (If I recall the 2-4% was in terms of what a rebate looks like; I don’t think we’ll be able to keep increases that low).

Last year was the beginning of getting “back to normal” from a food service standpoint. We asked Tito what he sees changing as a result of the pandemic. “We have 400 to 475 people at any point in the summer so meals were a little chaotic. Having everyone arrive at the kitchen all at once created problems. The pandemic forced us to limit the number of diners at any given time, and we have continued to work and tweak that model. We have preset mealtimes and also provide some outdoor eating space, which provides more flexibility to the campers while easing the burden on the kitchen.”

We asked Tito about staffing challenges. We have a staff of 150+ and that includes nurses, maintenance personnel, etc. Those professional roles have become the most challenging to fill but we have found that creating a fun and engaging environment that provides some stability and structure for those who had a stop-and-go employment history during the pandemic has helped us attract high quality individuals to help service our skilled positions.

We asked Tito about the outlook for the camping business. “Each camp has their own challenges when faced with losing a year of business in 2020 and having a soft year in 2021. I think our camp was lucky that we have a very strong alumni network and community support that helped us through. It’s always a journey, and that leads you back to asking yourself how you can streamline your operations without impacting the quality of your camps’ program, food and staff.”

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