Students Prioritize Social and Environmental Responsibility

College and university students are critical to the foodservice industry, as their time-starved schedules lead them to rely heavily on foodservice, both on and off campus. Indeed, Technomic data reveals that 75% of restaurant operators strongly agree that college and university students are highly important to their foodservice operation.  When looking to appeal to this key demographic, operators and suppliers must consider the ways in which students differ from the general population.

According to Technomic’s 2015 College & University Consumer Trend Report, students differ from the overall population in a variety of ways. One important and highly relevant difference is their greater and increasing prioritization of social and environmental responsibility. A near majority of students (46%, up from 37% in 2013), compared with just 28% of consumers (and roughly 30% of Gen Zers and Millennials who represent both students and nonstudents) say that it is important for the restaurants they visit to be socially and environmentally responsible.

“It is important to me that…”

Base: Approximately 700 (2013) and approximately 930 (2015)
Source: Technomic’s 2015 College & University Consumer Trend Report

The most highly valued responsibility initiatives relate to fair treatment of workers, waste reduction and giving back to the local community. These are all particularly important to younger students who are likely forming their attitudes and preferences that will contribute to their brand loyalty as they enter the workforce and gain more spending power.

Despite students’ keen interest, just 15% of restaurant operators are practicing social or environmental responsibility to appeal to college and university students. Not all operators have a substantial student customer base; however, just 24% of restaurant operators doing anything to appeal to college and university students are implementing responsible practices.

Taken altogether, these data suggest room to grow responsible practices to appeal to this important demographic. And it is worth noting that of those restaurant operators who are practicing responsibility to appeal to students, 85% say that these initiatives have had a positive impact on their business.


Deanna Jordan

Deanna Jordan is Manager of Consumer Insights 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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