Food trends on campus
Tom Laskey, Business Development Director, Sodexo Universities
Sodexo feeds students and university staff at nearly 50 university sites across the UK and Ireland, and 1600 sites globally, so we’d like to think we have our finger on the pulse when it comes to Gen Z food trends.
Our student consumers are more informed and demanding than ever before; if we are to compete with the latest high street offers, we certainly can’t afford to be complacent. To meet the demands of students looking for greater flexibility, better application of technology and better quality food, we are focused on applying insight and building great customer relationships to make sure we deliver what students really want.
Below we’ve summarised three of the biggest trends we are seeing among our student consumers; trends which are only likely to become more prevalent as we cater for our next generation of students.
Technology and eating out technology
As with virtually every area of student life and student experience, the application of technology is critical.
Firstly, we are really focused on using technology to understand students’ consumption patterns and to anticipate how they will behave. Our analytics are a lot more sophisticated than they have been historically. If a student’s pattern of buying changes we can see instantly and make contact with them, perhaps offer them a free coffee and get them back on board.
One such online loyalty programme we have recently introduced at Birkbeck College in London is Swipii, an app which not only allows customers to earn discounts each time they shop with Sodexo (or other participating outlets across London), but provides the management team with a personalised customer profile so the local team can identify a student’s spending patterns.
Secondly, the application of eating out technologies, such as pre-ordering apps and click-and-collect. We are currently rolling out our ‘Bite by Sodexo’ app, through which students can use their phones to view menus and nutritional information, as well as placing orders to pick up their food and drink within a designated window without having to queue. A click and deliver facility will follow.
Convenience and grab-and-go
The trend towards greater convenience and grab-and-go is one of the most influential in the eating out market generally and certainly incredibly important to time-pressed students.
Many of the recent changes we’ve made to our offer at Birkbeck University have been to drive greater convenience and increase speed of service. Taking measures such as introducing more hot ‘grab and go’ food that can easily be transported to lectures, the introduction of fast-track tills and re-calibrated coffee machines to reduce service time have led to sales increases of 12 per cent year on year.
We’ve also created more flexible dining spaces, to reflect the increasing blurring of the lines between dining space and social space.
Health, wellbeing and plant-based diets
In our 2017 Sodexo International University Lifestyle Survey we found that 60% of UK students try to eat healthily, with 19% saying it was essential to them. Preoccupations with health and healthy eating are particularly prevalent among the 18–25s; millennials seek out foods that fuel physical activity and brain power. This is also a key trend among younger consumers. A huge 93% of children aged 7-15 think that it is important to have a healthy diet (Mintel) and over four in ten pupils think that healthy food choices at school are the cooler choice, with girls more likely to agree with this statement than boys (46% vs 38%).
Our food offer at Nottingham University’s David Ross Sports Village is designed to fuel healthy, active lifestyles and menus were developed in conjunction with Matt Dawson, a Sodexo health and wellbeing ambassador and former England Rugby World Cup winner. Familiar foods, for example cottage pie, are developed with a healthy twist, such as using root vegetables, and pearl barley is used a lot as a carbohydrate, to ensure food is functional as well as flavoursome.
Another huge trend among young people is flexitarian and reduction in meat consumption, with twenty per cent of 16 to 24 year olds curbing meat in their diet (Grocer/Mintel). In response we are creating more vegan and vegetarian options across all our sites.
In summary, consumers nowadays are no longer passive, and students are among some of the most empowered, keen to dictate what they want and when they want it. In order to help promote a better quality of life for our student consumers we are convinced of the importance of building genuine customer relationships and providing high quality food and service.