Any successful business has to innovate to keep up with changing customer demands. As the saying goes, however, sometimes the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. That was the case at UCLA recently.
As its population continues to diversify, UCLA decided to pilot a new supplemental meal plan geared toward students who follow kosher and halal dietary laws.
“We want to be as inclusive to our population as possible,” says Charles Wilcots, associate director for UCLA Dining Services, who has been with the university for 19 years. “We have a diverse student body and we want to make their living and learning environment as close to what they’re used to at home.”
The kosher and halal supplemental meal plans gave students access to swipes that were used in addition to their regular meal plans. The cost was $908 for lunch only, $1,691 for dinner only or $2,599 for both meals, in addition to the cost of whichever regular meal plan students choose.
“Meals are prepared daily off campus by local vendors and sold exclusively at the Covel Commons residential restaurant,” says Wilcots, adding that the pilot was the result of collaboration between Jewish and Muslim students and dining services. “Three years ago, students approached us looking for kosher and halal options. We did focus groups and surveyed residents.”
In the survey, 200 students identified as observing halal or kosher dietary laws. This led UCLA Dining Services to begin the process of sourcing suitable meal choices for this demographic. The department began by extensively vetting all of its vendors, and in some cases finding new partners, that were capable of providing fully prepared and packaged kosher and halal meals.
“Our current facilities don’t support us preparing these types of meals from scratch,” Wilcots says. “Plus, it’s important that we serve students foods that strictly follow the appropriate guidelines.”
The school anticipated all 200 students would purchase the supplemental meal plan. Unfortunately, only five have signed up so far.
“We’re surprised that more students aren’t participating,” Wilcots says. “But that’s what pilots are for. We’re learning more about what they want and how we can better serve their needs.”
The gambit officially ended Nov. 3, as dining services pulled the supplemented meal plans. Students will still be able to receive kosher and halal options for lunch and dinner until the end of the semester, and students who did purchase the supplemental meal plans will be reimbursed, according to an article in the Daily Bruin.
Wilcots says he could not estimate the total cost of the kosher and halal supplemental meal plans for UCLA Dining Services, but noted that there are additional costs to the university to bring these freshly made meals in for students.
“When students swipe into Covel Commons, they have access to everything in the all-you-care-to-eat dining hall,” Wilcots says. “In order to access the prepackaged halal and kosher meal options, they are required to use the additional swipe.”
Unfortunately, those additional costs were not covered with the small amount of students who purchased the meal plan, and according to the Daily Bruin article.
“We’re looking at sourcing frozen products to help lower the cost,” Wilcots said before the supplemental meal plan cancellation. “But we certainly don’t want to take this option away even though participation is low. There’s a need. We just need to figure out how best to meet it.”