Typically, when you respond to a tender, you respond directly to the specification, outlining how you, as a potential supplier, will meet and cost the buyer’s requirements/specification as outlined.

A ‘variant bid’ is a response to a tender in which you propose innovative or an alternative approach to meet the buyer’s needs, departing from the methodology or requirements laid out in the specification.  The buyer still gets the same end solution but via a different method or solution, which offers a great cost/efficiency or other saving.


In a higher value/OJEU tender within the contract notice it will clearly tell you whether a variant bid will be accepted or not.

Private sector bids are harder to gauge if a variant bid will be accepted, if in doubt ask. However in public sector projects – they WILL tell you in the OJEU Contract Notice or within the instructions to tenderers, memorandum of information or the specification. If none of these apply, you can contact the buyer via the portal to clarify.



In public sector bidding most buyers are risk averse, so I would always advise (if there are not clear instructions) that you submit TWO bids, the first being the unaltered bid as you downloaded it form the buyer – complete it in its entirety and price it.  Alongside this you then submit a second ‘Variant Bid’ clearly marked on the front cover as ‘Variant Bid

Your Variant bid can be a short proposal that outlines:

  • A clear description of the improved/different methodology of delivery or alternative product  based on your expertise and knowledge that will provide the same or a better solution to the buyers requirements.
  • Clearly and quantifiably the improvements in quality or value for money that your variant bid will offer the buyer
  • The innovation and efficiencies your variant offer will bring
  • Demonstrable evidence of your variant model/product working for other clients
  • The cost to deliver your variant bid against the cost to deliver the unaltered (Specification) bid – this should show a significant saving for the buyer.

By submitting TWO bids, the buyers unaltered version (which is you responding to their original specification) and then also your variant bid you are increasing your chances of success.  If the buyer does not like your variant bid, you are not out of the running, as you might still win the contract with the non-variant bid.

As a knowledgeable, industry experienced supplier, you can benefit by proposing amendments to the specification to better reflect how you would see the service being delivered.


Only make a variant bid if you know that the buyer will be open to one, and ensure you frame all the benefits of your proposal in terms of what the buyer wants, not what you want.

Variant bids are a useful tool in competitive tendering to promote (or to propose) an innovative approach, but ensure you quantify and evidence to reduce risk.