On-Campus Canadian Foodservice: Two Key Opportunities for Growth

Canadian colleges and universities have been boosting interest in on-campus foodservice through fresh, high-quality fare. While these efforts have had a positive impact on visitation, meal plan enrolment is faltering. Just 21 percent of students participate in their school’s meal plan, a decrease from 30 percent of students polled in 2011, signaling a need for university dining programs to find additional ways to meet students’ preferences.

Technomic’s Canadian College & University Consumer Trend Report provides insight on where college and university foodservice have room to grow. The key to increasing on-campus traffic, and impacting meal-plan enrolment, is offering a wide range of foodservice concepts suited to a variety of occasions. This can encourage students to take advantage of on-campus foodservice.


Base: 1,000 (2011 and 2013) full-time students aged 18+ Source: Technomic’s 2013 Canadian College & University Consumer Trend Report

Base: 1,000 (2011 and 2013) full-time students aged 18+
Source: Technomic’s 2013 Canadian College & University Consumer Trend Report

Mobile food trucks are one promising foodservice channel for both students and operators. Forty-three percent of all students polled say they often purchase or would like to purchase food and beverage from mobile food trucks. Meanwhile, just eight percent of students say they can use their meal plan at mobile food trucks, indicating opportunity for proprietary truck brands.

Operators should consider mobile food trucks as a way to expand the current foodservice line-up without the hefty costs of a brick-and-mortar restaurant location. As an added benefit, these concepts are equipped to meet students wherever they are—whether at a pep rally before a big game or outside the library during exam week.

College and university campuses are exploring convenience and the burgeoning interest in bold, eclectic fusion fare by promoting mobile truck concepts on campus, with many exploring the benefits of partnerships with local purveyors. The University of Toronto hosts Food Truck Fridays, a clever way to keep students on campus. Each Food Truck Friday is hosted at a different location and features a different line-up of local trucks.

Urban Smoke Truck, University of Toronto

Urban Smoke Truck, University of Toronto

On-campus retail locations offer another opportunity. More than two-fifths of students surveyed (43 percent), and 62 percent of students enrolled in a meal plan, say they wish their school had retail locations where they could purchase groceries using their meal plan. Another 31 percent of students, and half of those with meal plans (49 percent), wish their school had more convenience stores to purchase snacks on their meal plan.

An on-campus retail foodservice location that offers a wide variety of groceries, along with a selection of other non-food necessities, can bring in students seeking the convenience of one-stop shopping. Such locations have the added potential of attracting off-campus residents for both foodservice and non-food purchases.

The University of Victoria is meeting this need with a c-store that offers not only grab-and-go, snacks and non-food necessities like toothpaste and detergent, but also items that are hard to find on campus: gluten-free fare, organic food and drink, and fresh produce.

As college and university fare continue to evolve, keep an eye on the mobile food truck and retail sector to see how these adapt to student demand. It’s likely that universities will invest in proprietary mobile food trucks as extensions of their own brick-and-mortar locations, while on-campus grocery and retail locations evolve to include hot and cold food bars not too different from those at upscale fresh markets like Loblaws and Whole Foods.


Saba Ahmed

Saba Ahmed is a Research Analyst at Technomic, Inc. in Chicago. She works on the firm’s Consumer Trend Reports, a series of annual studies that provides operators and suppliers with a comprehensive guide to the menu and consumer trends impacting various restaurant segments and menu categories in the U.S., Canada and U.K. She also contributes to the Consumer Food Trends newsletter, which explores the latest in foodservice and consumer trends

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