Expo Gives Insight to Food Trends

Sodexo event tests college students’ tastes.

Sodexo Food Expo, Seattle Pacific UniversitySEATTLE—More than 1,500 students participated in Sodexo’s fourth Food Trends Expo at 3,800-student Seattle Pacific University. Lara Seng, district marketing manager for Sodexo at the university, says the expo provided an opportunity directly hear from students.

“Each semester we go to a different university and invite chefs from all over the country to come in and prepare more than 70 recipes for students to try,” Seng said. “It’s a great way for the students to let us know what they like best. Then we feature those menu items the following semester on our campus dining menus across the country. So it’s a great way for us to be on trend, and the students have a great day tasting everything.”

The expo was set up like a grocery store tasting, only on a gargantuan scale, according to Seng.

“We had about 22 different stations set up with a different group of chefs working each one,” Seng said. “Each station had at least two and sometimes up to five or six different items. The students just went around at their leisure and tried whatever they wanted and then they marked off what they thought of that particular menu item on a ballot, which we then tabulated by the end of the day. The recipes came from Sodexo chefs and then we worked with our vendor partners on the different products that would go into the recipes. There were more than 30 chefs present at the expo.”

Sodexo Food Expo, Seattle Pacific UniversityIn conjunction with the expo, Sodexo released a menu for 2009 that compared current food trends to those from 20 years ago. Some of the trends from 1989 included fruit and cottage cheese plates, chicken nuggets, turkey tetrazzini and chicken chop suey. Compare those to current trends of locally grown fruits and veggies, crispy garlic-ginger chicken wings, mac and five cheeses and Vietnamese pho and it’s easy to see the appeal of the Food Trends Expo. The top foods tasted at SPU’s expo included roasted Asian chicken salad on flatbread, sautéed swiss chard with balsamic flatbread pizza, chicken and cheese flautas and funnel cake fries. The menu items will be integrated into campus menus starting next fall with an icon denoting them as items that were voted on by students.

 “It’s a really great way to show our commitment to customer insight—because how much more direct can you get?” said Monica Zimmer, director of public relations for Sodexo. “It’s not just research from somewhere. We prepared it for them, they tasted it and they told us what they liked. It’s really fun, but it’s really a commitment to customer satisfaction.”

To drive student participation, Seng said she worked with students to do some marketing on Facebook. She also created posters and table tents so they could get as many students as possible at the expo.

“A normal Friday at lunch was about 900, and we had 1,500 students come in during the three-hour period,” Seng said. “We really dramatically increased participation. I even heard students talking about getting out of class so they could come to the tasting.”

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
chefs

We started inviting chefs and FSDs from other districts to come prepare lunch. Through featuring different chefs and chef-inspired meals, I’ve found the students have been looking forward to coming into the cafeteria. They are willing to try new things with crazy names, and to ask for their favorite outside items turned healthy.

Ideas and Innovation
tapas

I’ve created a high school “focus group” to see what future college students will want in terms of foodservice. This year, I called up two now-seniors from the last group to get 10 of their friends together. I also include a sophomore or two so that I always have a contact for next year. Tapas, grain bowls and late-night breakfast all originated from this group.

Ideas and Innovation
making meals

This summer, we teamed up with a church to deliver meals to three housing projects. We brought the meals to the church, and then the church recruited volunteers to deliver the meals to the children. We’ve been very impressed with this new model, and it shows great promise in getting meals to children who otherwise would not be able to leave their housing project.

Industry News & Opinion
sharing love

Having never personally experienced a hurricane, I can only imagine the horrors faced by the millions of people whose lives were affected by Harvey and Irma in late August and early September. It’s a group that comprises uncounted noncommercial operations, including Houston Independent School District, which serves 215,000 students.

But from that tragedy has come one of the most impressive feats of foodservice I’ve seen since coming on board at this magazine, partially spearheaded by Nutrition Officer Betti Wiggins , who only just joined the district. For the entire school year,...

FSD Resources