Cost, cleanliness and convenience pivotal for students

By Matthew White, Chair of the University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) and Director of Campus Commerce at the University of Reading

These are some of the findings from our brand-new Student Eating & Drinking Habits report, a must-read for everyone involved in university catering. Four years since the launch of the first report, there have been several significant changes of note.

Most remarkably for me, is the increase of students who never drink. This percentage has reached a staggering 17%, up 6% from 11% in 2014.

The report, conducted in partnership with Qa Research, draws on the views of 1,500 British and international students, studying at different types of institutions across the UK. Its findings of student eating and drinking behaviour demonstrates a culture shift from cost being the dominant driver, to convenience and conscientious-consuming all now playing a more important role in decision-making.

“The most frequently used university outlets are cafes and 48% have an alcoholic drink either on most days or at least once a week.”

The report finds 92% of students have access to a kitchen with full cooking facilities within their accommodation and 56% cook a meal from scratch most days. Nearly a third (27%), are concerned about whether their food is Fair-trade, ethically farmed or free range, whilst 8% are vegetarian and don’t eat fish. The most frequently used university outlets are cafes and 48% have an alcoholic drink either on most days or at least once a week. As before, cereal remains the number one breakfast choice (50%) but has declined slightly in popularity since 2014 (55%). Tea continues to remain more popular than coffee as a breakfast drink.

Eighty-three per cent of participants state they frequently cook a meal from scratch and 27% frequently eat out. The main reasons cited as obstacles to cooking from scratch include lack of time – 76%, don’t know how to cook a variety of meals – 19%, cost – 18%, and someone else cooks for me – 15%.

Students were asked if anything would encourage them to use the food and drink establishments at their university more often. The results underline the critical role and importance of pricing, with cheaper food prices, promotions and discounts in the top three. It’s a fascinating and insightful report.

You can receive a free copy via tuco.ac.uk