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Mizzou Market Central 16.jpg University of Missouri
Fresh-cut fruit cups are a top grab-and-go seller at Mizzou Central Market.

University of Missouri Market goes big on grab and go

At Mizzou Central Market, fresh convenience foods and self-checkout keep things quick and easy

When the University of Missouri asked students about the must-haves on their campus dining wish lists, two things came up: Healthier fare and more grab-and-go options. Both are available at the new Mizzou Market Central.

Recently opened in the MU Student Center, the convenience-style retail location offers a variety of prepared grab-and-go items made with fresh ingredients, along with snacks, drinks, and household items.

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Mizzou Central Market customers have to pass the grab-and-go case before they reach items like water or soda.

Grab-and-go offerings include salads, fruit cups, sandwiches, yogurt and granola parfaits, veggie cups with dip, guacamole, and pinwheel-style precut wraps. All of the items come from a local produce vendor, since the student center's commissary space is currently being used for catering. "We don't have the space for our own commissary yet, but it's always in the plan," says Don Jackson, University of Missouri Interim Director of Campus Dining Services.

The vendor delivers fresh-made items on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. The items are held in curtain-style coolers that sit at the front of the store to catch customers' attention. "You have to pass those if you're going in for your everyday items like juice or soda," which helps drive up sales, says Jackson.

Being able to quickly grab a bite before heading off to class is a priority for students, Jackson says. The student center houses six dining locations, all of which get mobbed by students living on- and off-campus during the lunchtime rush. "During that 11:00 to 1:30 period, there's a ton of traffic that comes through here since we're at the center of campus," Jackson explains. "Students were complaining that the lines were too long. Being able to get food between classes was a big deal."  

At Mizzou Market, the most sought-after grab and go items are fresh fruit cups (including a kiwi, strawberry, and blueberry mix), chicken Caesar salad, and cowboy caviar - a creamy-crunchy, salsa-like concoction with beans, veggies, and corn that can be enjoyed with chips. "If a cashier sees someone buying the cowboy caviar, they'll suggest chips to go with it," Jackson says.

Items are stocked into the coolers from behind in the mornings when they're delivered. From there, market employees monitor the coolers and replenish them as needed throughout the day. Figuring out exactly how much of each item the market needs before the next scheduled delivery date has been a process of trial and error. "The first time we brought in grab and go items, we ran out the same night," Jackson says. "We want to run out of things before they reach their three-day shelf life, but we don't want to run out before that."

Self-checkout kiosks have helped keep purchases speedy. "It makes grab-and-go even easier. Everything has a barcode, so customers can scan it, tap their card, and leave. There's not much a learning curve. The students have a pretty intuitive sense of how it works," reports Jackson, adding that traditional cashiers are also on duty to provide an extra layer of customer service. Last-minute items like batteries or phone accessories are displayed by the self-checkout kiosks so customers can add those to their purchase before heading out the door.

Customers can shop the market on Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 9.p.m. Opened in late March, the market has already alleviated some of the lunchtime lines that typically plagued the student center. But Jackson is hoping to find ways to improve things even more: "I'm looking into an app that will tell when locations are busy and when they're not," he says.

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