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An inside look into college foodservice

An inside look into college foodservice

From labor to GMOs and the egg shortage, five FM Live! roundtable participants at the NACUFS national conference shared their thoughts on the struggles and opportunities in college foodservice today.

A group of five operators gathered at NACUFS to sound off on a variety of issues affecting college and university foodservice programs.

For the 15th year, Food Management played host to a small group of operators at the NACUFS national conference for our FM Live! roundtable. From labor to GMOs and the egg shortage, the five roundtable participants shared their thoughts on the struggles and opportunities in college foodservice today. What follows are a few highlights from the conversation.  

Steve Mangan. Photo: University of Michigan

Steve Mangan, Director of dining
University of Michigan
“We’re going to probably shift about $5 million in purchases to local vendors this year to try to hit 20 percent. We’re currently at 12.7. We’re really looking at traceability, where is the food from.

I’ve got targets that we’ve committed to that we have to meet for sustainable purchases and local purchases. So we’re not fooling around anymore. We’re going to buy the product that will fit those demands, and I’m not going to be shipping stuff in from around the country if I can get it locally. Our definition of local is within the state of Michigan or 250 miles from Ann Arbor. Sustainable, though, is much more complicated. It has to have a certification with it. If it’s manufactured in Michigan, 50 percent of the ingredients have to be from Michigan. It gets really complicated.

For example, we work with Prairie Farms Dairy. It’s a local Michigan dairy. We can’t count them as a sustainable purchase because they feed their dairy herd in a CAFO, which is a mass feeding operation. So that takes it off our sustainable list. It’s a million and a half dollars we spend on dairy every year that goes into our local spend. So we’ve started tracking our economic impact for Michigan separately, which is getting close to 30 percent of our purchases [being] from Michigan, but our sustainable purchases are only around 12. We’ve got to push the sustainable up to 20.

Fresh and local is outweighing the GMO stuff. Fresh meaning as few ingredients as possible, as local as possible.”

Jim Ruoff

Jim Ruoff. Photo: Binghamton University

Resident district Manager
Sodexo, Binghamton University
“I was approached by a student entrepreneur. He’s like, ‘Jim, We eat a lot of drunk food walking up to the trucks. And it’s rice and chicken and lettuce and hot sauce. If you let me do this, I will sell a ton of it on your campus.’ I’m like, ‘You got to give me more of a business plan.’ And he did. He gave us the recipes, gave us his plan, and I started last year giving him a nighttime slot in one of my [operations].

We put his crew through our HACCP training, through our employee orientation. They’re working under the supervisor, and I’m like, ‘This isn’t going to work at all.’

First night he opens, he has 200 people in line. It’s like, ‘Son, how did you do this?’ He’s like, ‘I got my own marketing tools.’ So this year in our marketplace, he’s like, ‘I want to expand.’ We gave him one of our marketplace venues Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It’s the No. 1 seller on Fridays, No. 2 on Thursdays and No. 2 on Sundays. I also give him a little piece of the sales. He’s actually talking to other SUNYs (State University of New York campuses) about bringing it in.”

Jon Plodzik

Jon Plodzik. Photo: The University of New Hampshire

Director of dining hall operations
University of New Hampshire
“One of the challenges now because we’re attracting so many international students [is that] we don’t do international well. We don’t do Chinese well, and we have a lot of kids from China. It’s a real competency problem for culinarians. We work with Navitas, which is one of those international recruiters that places kids that can’t speak English at all in our program and then lets them go. They spend a year learning English and matriculate in.

We were very naive thinking they would come and just accept our menu. Instead it was like, ‘We’re not going to eat any of this.’ All of a sudden we were trying to design menus around what they wanted, which was great when everybody was coming from China. As it changes next year, it will probably be Turkey or something, and all of a sudden we won’t be matching that demographic.”

Sheryl Kidwell

Sheryl Kidwell. Photo: University of Kansas

Residential assistant director
University of Kansas
“[The egg shortage] really is [affecting us] because one of the largest farms that was affected by that is in Iowa, and we’re right next door.

We just met last week with our representatives and the president of Kansas City Sysco to talk about this and how we have a plan in place. As they’re giving us their reports of what’s available, the lists are moving up with these, dare I say, less desirable versions of egg products as they are running out of the whole fresh liquid eggs. The shell eggs seem to still be prevalent, which I’m still trying to wrap my head around how that works. Our chefs have done labor studies on how many fresh liquid eggs we go through and how many shell eggs that’s equivalent to and how much labor to crack all those eggs.

This shortage is real and it’s affecting us, and yet they’re still prevalent and available in the grocery stores. That’s what I wonder because our students are going to say, ‘Well, I just got a carton of eggs at the grocery store.’ Did you notice they’re three times as much as you paid before?”

Kevin D’Onofrio

Kevin D’Onofrio. Photo: U.S. Military Academy

Director of Food Service
U.S. Military Academy
“Marketing is probably an area that my department and myself fail at miserably daily. Because each day I want to do something with marketing, and what happens? Someone calls in, something happens, a delivery happens, we’re putting out fires.

I find that I have to bring value back to the students. We have 12 restaurants that deliver from a mile away—first McDonald’s in the country to deliver outside of their Golden Arches. Couple that with five different entities doing food on my campus or the military base, we have a lot of food going on every day. So for me it comes back to this marketing piece, and how do I give value back to the students? They always think everything is overpriced, although I could go down the list and everything is from 25 cents to over a dollar less per unit.”

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