Competition improves foodservice options at US universities, Mintel finds

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University foodservice in the US has moved on in leaps and bounds, according to new research from Mintel.

The range and quality of foods now offered at many US colleges and universities has created a greater degree of competition, researchers found. Mintel reports 72% of college students who have dined on campus have done so at their campus cafeteria, compared to 65% who have done so at a café, restaurant or coffee shop on campus.

“Students and their parents have come to expect high-quality food in their college or university environments,” said Eric Giandelone, foodservice director at Mintel. “This is placing pressure on schools to include these programmes as part of their overall package when attracting students.”

Lighter meals are the most popular option for on-campus diners, with sandwiches (61%) leading the pack as most ordered for the on-the-go lifestyle of students. Salads are also a popular preference (42%), but would be best served as a to-go alternative versus the standard all-you-can-eat option. 

Female students are more likely than male students to opt for healthier choices, such as salads (46% vs. 35%), however, they also have a sweet tooth and are more likely than males to get a baked good/pastry or ice cream dessert, reports Mintel. Men, on the other hand, are less healthy with their on-campus food choices and are notably more likely than women to order French fries (36% vs. 30%) or cheeseburgers (26% vs. 18%).

Ultimately, when it comes to top restaurant attributes, price is top-of-mind for student diners.

“Keeping on-campus meals and snacks at a competitive price point will help keep students from wandering off campus for their brain food,” said Giandelone. “This is also true for foodservice providers looking to attract off-campus students not enrolled in a campus meal plan to select on-campus establishments.”

Some 86% of students claim price was the most important factor when selecting their eating destination, followed by menu selection, convenient location and cuisine type (74%, 71% and 68%, respectively). While, not overly important to students now – some 6% of students made their choice based on local ingredient usage and 4% on the use of fair trade products. This corresponds with the local, sustainable and green movements that the foodservice industry is seeing as a whole.