What new data shows about college dining

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It’s no secret that college and university foodservice is big business.

With sales eclipsing $18 billion, it’s easy to assume the future of this segment is extremely bright. But in spite of all the opportunity, colleges and universities face myriad challenges—specifically around enrollment.

Simply put: the student population is changing. Though enrollment is expected to stay stable over the next 10 years, post-baccalaureate enrollment is rising faster than undergraduate, according to Technomic’s 2019 College & University Consumer Trend Report. And more potential students are delaying higher education—or eschewing it altogether—in favor of other full-time employment, thanks to low unemployment figures. Finally, the student body is aging as more people work to earn degrees later in life, which means fewer on-campus students in general.

To deal with these shifting demographics, college and university foodservice directors will need to grapple with their students’ changing food needs. Older students will likely require a smaller meal plan, for example, while younger students are more prone to replace a traditional meal with an on-the-go snack.

And what they eat is changing, too. Taste, healthfulness and quality are likewise important to students, according to the Technomic study.

With two-fifths or fewer of students rating the quality, taste and health of menu items at their schools as good or very good, directors and chefs have their work cut out for them when it comes to elevating or innovating their menus to include items diners crave and that make them feel good.

For example, approximately a fifth of students say more portable, handheld options (22%) or offerings that meet special-diet needs (21%) would entice them to buy more meals on campus. And 44% say they wish their school would change the menu more often to offer new foods.

Read on to see what other areas are appealing to potential diners in college and university and how foodservice directors and chefs can meet those evolving needs.

Most popular meals

Thirty-eight percent of 18- to 20-year-olds say they usually skip one meal per day or replace one meal with snacks. At 4.9 days per week, breakfast is eaten the least frequently of all meals. Adding on-the-go breakfast options or order-ahead service may entice students to stop for something on their way to class, according to Technomic.

Here's how often students say they eat each meal:

  • Breakfast: 4.9 days/week
  • Lunch: 5.7 days/week
  • Dinner: 6.1 days/week
  • Snacks: 7.5 times/week


Delivery dilemma

Delivery orders are on the rise at the expense of dine-in and takeout options in college and university. Currently, 42% of students say they would like more on-campus cafeterias or restaurants to offer delivery. 

Here's how often students order food to go, on-site or for delivery:

  • 44%: Taken to go
  • 35%: Consumed at the location
  • 21%: For delivery


Location, location, location

When students move off campus, they take their foodservice spend with them, according to Technomic.

Students reported making this percentage of their food and beverage purchases from the following: 

  • 36%: Off-campus retail, grocery or convenience stores
  • 26%: On-campus foodservice facilities
  • 25%: Off-campus restaurants
  • 13%: On-campus retail locations



A 20-minute online survey of 1,400 consumers was conducted in March and April 2019. The survey asked about on- and off-campus foodservice behavior, including patronage, attitudes and preferences. Consumers must be a full-time student at a college or university to qualify for the survey. Some of the data is attributed to college and university operators. These questions were included in a proprietary Technomic survey fielded online. To order the results in their entirety, please visit Technomic.com.



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