August is here and that means school will be starting soon. College students begin to put away the sunscreen, leave their summer jobs and pack up to head back to campus. You can bet one thing, they will have plenty of food and beverage at their disposal. College dining has come a long way since the days of John Bluto Blutarsky rolling through the cafeteria line at Faber College. Todays dining environment is as different from the past as were the Deltas and the Omegas in the famed movie Animal House.
Take a look at todays college dining areas and youre more likely to think youve walked into your local convenience store.
College students today have grown up with a different frame of reference than perhaps weve had in the past, said David Portalatin, c-store industry analyst for The NPD Group. For this group, c-stores have always been an appropriate place to grab breakfast, lunch or dinner. They dont have some of the traditional notions of formal channel structures that their parents or grandparents have.
Higher education institutions are constantly striving to attract top flight students and having convenient foodservice facilities are a big part of their selling points. In 2012 the University of Wisconsin-Madison opened the $34.1 million Gordon Dining Hall. Among its features is a 1,700-foot convenience store. Oklahoma State University in Stillwater undertook a $63 million renovation of its student union in 2011 and a big part of that was creating a convenience store featuring beverages, snacks and grab-and-go sandwiches.
Competition to attract high level students to fill their classrooms has always been paramount among the nations colleges, keeping them on campus for their refreshment and dining needs once they arrive is another obstacle many institutions face. According to Technomic, 63% of college students purchase food from off-campus restaurants at least once a week but that may be changing.
Students staying on campus to quench their thirst or feed their hunger is rebounding close to pre-recession levels. Technomics 2012 College & University Consumer Trend Report stated 69% of students purchased food and beverages from on-campus facilities. This number was as low as 62% in 2011 and was as high as 71% in 2009.
C-stores on campus is big business as well. The NPD Group statistics show college students made 351.4 million visits to c-stores, spending $5.2 billion in 2012 and college student c-store product spending grew 15% from 2011.
To keep momentum going, campus dining operations will want to continually focus on improvements on menu variety, prices and atmosphere at on-campus dining facilities, said Darren Tristano, Technomic Executive Vice President. Menu variety in particular is key to retaining student patronage.
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