PHILADELPHIA—In an effort to bring better nutrition and more fun to elementary school cafeterias across the nation, Aramark has developed a new dining concept called Cool*Caf.
Cool*Caf is a program that features nutritious menus, faster service lines, fruit and vegetable bars and a new nutrition mascot, a fox named Ace. Cathy Schlosberg, vice president of marketing for Aramark, said, “What we were essentially trying to achieve was to create a fun environment where elementary school students would be excited to eat a healthy lunch at school.” The program was piloted in 16 schools in Fall 2008. It was then added to 60 additional schools last month. The intention is for all Aramark-run elementary schools to be on the Cool*Caf program by Fall 2009.
In order to create a program that would accomplish a fun and healthy environment, Aramark first completed research to determine what students, teachers and parents were looking for in school lunch programs.
According to Michael Pursell, associate vice president for Aramark Education, the research provided five main findings. The first finding was that parents and teachers wanted an environment in which students could make healthy dining choices. The second was that children wanted a lunch environment that resonated with them. Third, students have sophisticated palates and they are looking for more food choices. Fourth, the research determined that the mascot, Ace, has influence on the students. Lastly, the research showed that long lines were a detriment to students purchasing school lunches.
After these findings, Aramark set out to create a program that would address these key research points. One of the most important aspects of Cool*Caf is the environment. The walls are painted bold, bright colors and signage is found throughout. Pursell said students said they wanted a place where they could socialize with their friends during lunch and they wanted to be in an environment that resonated with them, which meant that kids wanted a cafeteria that met the entertainment values associated with elementary school children. Animated art the walls with buzz words such as “friend,” “strong” and “healthy” are found throughout. “A lot of times these cafeterias are multipurpose rooms with dull white walls,” Pursell said. “With Cool*Caf, we wanted to make the walls bright and make this a fun and engaging place for students to eat a healthy school meal.”
In addition to the new environment, Cool*Caf has made several operational changes to speed up service. “The average school lunch for elementary kids is 23 minutes,” Pursell said. “So we understand that if we don’t have an efficient program in place, parents aren’t going to send students to school with money to purchase lunch.” To address this problem an express line has been added to Cool*Caf. In the line, students can pick up á la carte items, such as milk or a sack lunch. Pursell said the express line is great for those students who brought their lunch from home but need one or two items like milk or fruit. By having a line where these students can pick up these á la carte items, Pursell said the lines for hot meals has sped up significantly. “We are able to feed more students in a less time,” he adds.
The express line also has a new sack lunch program. “The sack lunches are kind of what McDonald’s has done with Happy Meals,” Pursell said. This has provided an additional point of service. It’s not your traditional paper bag lunch. There are lots of bright colors and the mascot and educational games are on the packaging. One of the things we learned from the children doing the research was that kids didn’t want a mystery sack lunch. The kids can now see what’s inside these bags.” The sack lunches can either be sold as a reimbursable meal or á la carte, depending on what the needs are at each school.
Another new operational addition in Cool*Caf are the fresh fruit and vegetable bars. “In our research we found that the students really wanted to be able to be involved with their food,” Schlosberg said. “Through the bar, they can select different fruits and veggies and they can chose different dipping sauces to make it more fun.”
Ace and his friends also play a large part in the educational aspect of Cool*Caf. “With Ace and friends, we have a new platform to reinvigorate our nutrition education platform,” Schlosberg said. “We have a live show where Ace can be booked to show up at the school. He teaches kids about making healthy choices. We also have a monthly education program, which is themed ‘Ace Goes Around the World.’ Schools receive passports along with a small educational item that can be given out to the students to reinforce the nutritional components.” Ace and his friends are also featured throughout the servery in signage.
To address the savvy food audience being found in younger students today, Cool*Caf provides students with meals that exceed USDA nutritional guidelines, and the menus offer students different choices throughout the week. More fresh fruits and vegetables are also found in the new concept.