Offering non-dairy milks on campus is no longer outside the norm; students have come to expect it.
“It’s really become much more mainstream,” says Jeffrey Scott, director of dining services at Ithaca College.
And for good reason: Some 10% of college students say they have food allergies, and of that group, 21% report being allergic to dairy milk, according to Technomic’s recent College & University Consumer Trend Report. That’s the most-prevalent of all food allergens surveyed.
Beyond those with food allergies are growing numbers of vegan diners, flexitarians and others seeking to follow plant-based diets.
“Ithaca college began offering soy milk about a decade ago by special request,” Scott says. The school still menus soy milk, of course, but it’s been joined by vanilla soy milk, chocolate soy milk, almond milk, rice milk and lactose-free milk.
Students no longer need to make a special request for non-dairy milks. It’s offered in self-serve dispensers in residential dining, at coffee stations and in grab-and-go containers for retail sales. Scott says he used to know practically every student by name who requested non-dairy milk. Now that the products have merged so seamlessly with dairy beverages, there’s no need for anyone to make an effort to ask for non-dairy drinks.
“It has really blended in to be a staple of our menu,” he says. “I couldn’t tell you today the breakout because what’s awesome is folks don’t have to go out of their way to get non-dairy.”
“The school now goes through about 35 cases each week of the different non-dairy milks in dining halls,” Scott says. It’s also a popular choice in the catering program.
“It started to peak about three years ago,” he says. “It has stayed pretty steady since then.”
Still, there is plenty of room for colleges and universities to improve their non-dairy offerings. Less than half (41%) of students surveyed said their campus does a good job of providing options for special diets, according to Technomic data.
At Ithaca, which has 6,500 students—4,200 of whom are on a meal plan—the prevalence of non-dairy beverages dovetails with other allergen-free and special-diet dining options.
The school’s dining halls, which are managed by Sodexo, have featured a vegan dining station for the past 16 years. It attracts hundreds of diners each day for plant-based entrees, side dishes and a variety of non-dairy desserts.
Scott and his team pay attention to student surveys, social media engagement, on-site tabling and a student advisory committee to assess whether foodservice tweaks are needed. He has been pleased with the response to the school’s efforts to meet diverse dietary requests.
“It seems to be meeting the need very well,” Scott says.
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This post is sponsored by WhiteWave Foods