Making a strong first impression

By Matt White, Chair of The University Caterers Organisation and Director of Catering, Hotel and Conference Services at Reading

September is possibly the most important month in a university’s calendar, as it marks the start of a new academic year and a fresh intake of students. For university caterers, it’s their chance to create a strong first impression and become the number one choice for students. 

To stand out from the get-go, it’s imperative that the food and drink on campus matches – and in many cases, goes beyond – what’s happening on the high street. This essentially boils down to bringing a taste of global food trends to universities and incorporating options which reflect consumer demands and eating habits. At TUCO, we recently conducted our annual research into global food and drink trends and discovered 78 specific trends. Keeping on top of a handful of trends is a challenge in itself, let alone trying to consider 78! To help with this, we have identified key overriding themes for university caterers to consider when planning their offer for the new academic year.

These include:

1. Health for All – There is now a greater understanding of the link between the food we eat and our wellbeing, which is driving demand for free-from and low-in-sugar options. To tap into this, university caterers are developing large vegan ranges and creating vegan versions of popular dishes. 

2. Conscientious Consuming – Conscientious eating is a big focus for students and as a result, they’re opting for local and seasonal foods. This provides FE caterers with the opportunity to celebrate the provenance of the food and drink on menus and seek more localised, artisan suppliers. 

3. Crafted and Curated – Consumers are more interested than ever before in the creation of their food and drink. Building on this, companies are offering bigger back stories and detail around their processes – a notion which is being embraced across campuses. 

4. Plant Perfection – In a technology-saturated world, there is a counter trend emerging that places the focus back on the natural world. For this trend, caterers are turning more to plants, botanicals, florals and plant-based foods and including these within student menus.

There are many food and drink trends out there and it’s, of course, impossible to include all of them on menus. The challenge is to interpret, evaluate and prioritise to find which ones work best for your university and your students’ tastes.