Originality, value and speed

Peter Taylor, Strategic Development Director at Sodexo Education, looks at the latest innovations in university catering

✥How have student food trends shifted in recent years?

Changes in students’ expectations of their food service offers at university have accelerated in recent years, though a focus on high value-for-money options remains paramount. As innovative offers hit the high street at an ever-increasing rate, the drive for high-quality, branded offers remains strong. Current eating trends demand low price, originality and speed of service, whilst provenance and health values have become secondary, according to our latest survey. Street food and pop-up restaurants have changed the style of eateries on campus, moving further away from a traditional lunchtime offer. 

✥How are these trends identified?

We use our University Lifestyle Survey, which we carry out every two years, to identify over-arching trends and to determine our strategy for food services. The survey looks at students’ motivation for choosing their university and aims to gauge their satisfaction with all non-academic services and their accommodation. We also draw on the wider expertise of our chefs within the business, such as Sodexo’s National Craft Forum, to identify national and regional trends and help share expertise. For example, the Craft Forum recently ran a food tour in London taking chefs from across the business to visit a range of the capital’s most innovative new restaurant concepts.

✥Are natural products and healthy eating still high on the agenda?

In our latest University Lifestyle Survey, we found that 79% of students make an effort to eat healthily. However, we did see that the numbers of students concerned about eating sustainable or ethically-labelled food, such as Fairtrade, free-range or locally-sourced food, had gone down. That said, most universities have very clear and ambitious programmes for embedding sustainable development, and providing ethical and nutritious food and drink is an important part of this approach. We have been awarded the bronze Food for Life accreditation by the Soil Association at Southampton Solent University and Bradford University, while Greenwich University, for whom we provide catering, has recently been named as MSC’s University of the Year.

✥Is it difficult to cater for a wide audience of students, especially with a growing international student population?

We aim to cater for the many different tastes and cultures represented in each university by having a good selection of restaurants, cafés and other outlets available. For example, at UCL we operate a number of different food outlets, providing a variety of price points, food and refreshment offers, as well as relaxed and more formal dining experiences.  

To help inspire our UK chefs to cater effectively for international students we have put in place programmes such as Global Chef, an annual exchange we run between Sodexo chefs from overseas and in the UK. Earlier this year we hosted Chef Hubert from Brazil, who spent three weeks in the UK working with teams from our universities, sharing recipes and techniques to help develop authentic South American recipes.

✥How can university campus facilities compete with off-site cafés and restaurants?

It is important that our cafés and restaurants mirror the dining trends hitting the high street and that we offer high-quality, branded or locally-badged settings that still provide value for money for our cost-conscious student market. But we don’t always have to compete. Our Artisan Café at Southampton Solent University is open to both the general public and students and we’ve found that this mix can work really well in a high-street setting.

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