Virginia Tech: Catering to on-the-go students with grab-and-go options

grab and go fruit display

From Dannon Foodservice.

Today’s college students are snacking more than ever—and savvy foodservice operators are paying attention.

They’re offering a wide variety of creative snacks, strategically positioned around campus. And they’re employing eye-catching packaging and smart marketing strategies that have students grabbing these portable options.

Virginia Tech has consistently been upgrading its snacking program in recent years. It’s a move that’s paying off, says Ashley Foster, administrative dietitian for Virginia Tech Dining Services.

Grab-and-go choices are available at all Virginia Tech dining facilities, except for at the all-you-care-to-eat dining hall. That facility features a grab-and-go concept downstairs.

Students, Foster says, have become better educated about nutritional choices, and they often seek out better-for-you options. The school recently added Dannon Oikos Triple Zero yogurt drinks, which have been a big seller, along with grab-and-go yogurt cups and parfaits throughout campus, she says.

“We’re finding students like the Greek yogurt,” she says. “They’re seeking out the protein, and they’re more aware of added sugars and sugar content.”

Greek yogurt smoothies are also a huge seller. The smoothies, available in two sizes, feature a blend of yogurt and fruit in a to-go cup. “Even during the winter when it’s cold, they’re still getting smoothies,” she says.

Other popular portable snacks at Virginia Tech include celery and peanut butter cups, cut vegetables with ranch dip and whole-wheat pitas with hummus. The school is also making high-protein chia seed-soy milk puddings in house.

Last spring, the school started offering packs of crispy garbanzo beans baked with garlic and spices. That high-protein snack has also been popular, Foster says.

In fact, the snack options are so plentiful that Virginia Tech students often create their own bundled meals.

“Depending on where they are on campus and what they have going on, they may get several grab-and-go items to make a meal, if they don’t have time for a whole meal,” Foster says.

Grab-and-go items are marked with special to-go labels. But the school also marks certain snacks with “YES” to-go labels, denoting better-for-you options. YES (for You’re Eating Smarter) calls out items with fewer than 600 calories, whole grains, no trans fat, little to no saturated fat and less than 30% of calories from fat overall.

New snack options are highlighted via Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. Virginia Tech also hosts a student advisory committee to generate new snack ideas and spread the word about new dining options. “It’s a great way to get the word out,” Foster says.

The demand for creative snack options is there. Follow the model of Virginia Tech with enticing grab-and-go options to boost your snacking participation.

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With consumers living increasingly busy, on-the-go lifestyles, operators who offer grab-and-go items are in the best position to benefit from the snacking public's eating habits. But since most people turn to different snacks throughout the day, operators need to provide diverse options to capture consumers' changing appetites. The ongoing popularity of grab-and-go items reveals trends that could help operators tailor their inventories to increase sales, especially in the workplace.

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