At college and university campuses, creativity is found not only in the classrooms but also in the dining establishments. Every year, college campus dining facilities are at the forefront of innovation, setting trends such as transparency and social awareness for the rest of the foodservice industry to follow. Because of this, operators and suppliers closely monitor this segment for forward-thinking trends that can be implemented in their own businesses.
Students have a plethora of dining venues to consider on college campuses. About two in five respondents say that they order prepared foods and beverages for breakfast at least 50% of the time at a cafeteria/dining hall (42%) and retail location (39%). Cafeterias and dining halls are most likely to offer students the majority of options within their meal plan and the biggest variety of foods and beverages to appease the widest demographic. Slightly trailing are restaurants and vending machines, where 36% of respondents say they order prepared meals for breakfast at least half the time. Further, only 30% of respondents order from a food truck at least half of the time, and even less (28%) say the same regarding kiosk/beverage carts. This is not too surprising as many of the food trucks or kiosks often found on campus focus on offering prepared foods and beverages for lunch, dinner and snacks over breakfast.
And although each consumer defines health in different ways, many say the use of fresh ingredients, natural/organic ingredients and better-for-you fare — each of which shows up in the top 10 responses — equate to health. Variety of options (including the ability to customize and variety of portion sizes) is also important to consumers, as well as convenience. All of these factors work together to create the greatest consumer appeal at colleges.
Breakfast Food/Beverage Preferences
When asked what type of food or beverage is most preferred for breakfast at an on-campus college foodservice facility, more than one in three consumers (35%) selected coffee, followed by eggs any style (28%). Other favored breakfast items include fruity options like juice and fruit (each 25%) and traditional breakfast starches like cereal (20%), bagel (20%), pastry (20%) and pancake/waffle/French toast (19%).
As previously noted, college and university foodservice facilities are teeming with menu innovation. Let’s take a look at three emerging trends we’re seeing on menus:
Local/regional fare: The college and university segment equals, if not surpasses, the overall industry’s enthusiasm for local sourcing. Some campuses are going as far as developing entire venues that serve only local or regional fare, whereas other colleges are simply switching to having select ingredients provided by a local supplier.
Waste reduction: The “use it all” mindset is not just a trend at restaurants. Campuses are going green by implementing dining without trays to reduce waste, repurposing food scraps for specially marketed food waste meals and highlighting other awareness plans to bring trash to treasure.
Authentic Ethnic: Students increasingly want their schools’ dining facilities to offer more ethnic foods and beverages. College and university operations are responding by touting the authenticity of globally influenced restaurants and food stations.
3 Areas of Opportunity for College & University Breakfast
Variety is the Spice of Life
Taste and freshness are table stakes: of course students want food that is fresh and tastes good! Consumers are placing the heartiest emphasis on variety. More than a quarter of consumers say they prefer a wide variety of options for breakfast on a college or university campus. This is where multiple food stations in dining halls come into play: Operators should get creative by testing new ethnic cuisines and mashups to keep students and staff engaged. In addition, varying sauces and condiments is an easy and inexpensive way to add diversity to menus.
Get to Know Your Students
Two things we know for certain about students: no two are alike and they are very vocal about their opinions. It can be highly beneficial for operators to find creative ways to get students involved in menu creation and recipe development. Also, because there are vastly different dining preferences among gender, ethnicity and region demographics, knowing your student makeup is essential. Operators should consider offering customizable menus to appeal to the widest range of students.
Health may not always be top-of-mind for college students, but they’re still asking for better-for-you menu attributes, including fresh, natural, organic and allergen-free fare. Some colleges and universities are responding by building entire campus restaurants and dining hall stations around these attributes, including gluten-free venues.