UMass Dining is the nation’s largest campus dining operation with revenues over 85 million in 2014 and serving over 45,000 meals daily to our millennial diners. Millennials are truly leading food trends and the underlying cultural trends that are driving change. Let me share with you what is trending now at UMass and beyond…
1. Gluten-free eating is flat
The explosive growth we all saw during the last few years is over. We noticed our student participation at our gluten-free exclusive stations grew by a mere of 2% in 2014 compared to a double digit annual increase in previous years. We all know that we have to take care of the 1% of the population that suffers from celiac disease; our students as a whole are looking for a convergence of flavors, health and wellness, and sustainability.
2. Whole grains are back on center stage
Actually, they never went away. Apart from those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities, we know that whole grains are good for you and the more we offer to our customers, the more they will choose. At UMass, 50% of the bread we serve is whole grain, 25% of sushi served is made with brown rice; all our pasta is whole grain and our beloved famous warm chocolate cookies are 100% whole grain.
3. Grass-fed beef is what our customers are looking for
Who doesn't like beef that is lean, flavorful with no hormones, while supporting animal welfare? Americans are growing wary of mass production of our commercialized meat with added hormones to enhance growth - and they are more commonly opting to support smaller farms. Last October, we served 2,500 Ibs 100 % grass fed top sirloin from Australia to students during our popular Halloween special event; our students just loved it and want more.
4. Supporting a regional food system is a must
Buying local and supporting your regional food system is good for you. No longer measuring “local” by the mile, but rather by region, is what we are doing at UMass. We are committed to purchasing as much regional food that is either grown or manufactured in New England, which in turn supports the community, creates jobs and is good for business. With the support of a grant from the Henry P. Kendall Foundation of Boston, we are transforming the sustainable food landscape across New England.
5. Are you serving only sustainable seafood?
According to our latest data, students at UMass consumed more seafood than that average Americans (an average of 21 lbs verses 14 lbs annually). Most of our seafood came from Alaska; they are a model of sustainability and Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) is a great organization to work with. In 2014, we also served under-utilized fish such as redfish, and hake from New England and our students enjoy it too.
6. Plant protein are gaining popularity
Lentils and beans, nuts such pistachios and almonds, peanuts, soy and ancient grains are so popular now that we feature them daily on our menu. We are serving more hot oatmeal cereal than ever; we offer more soy based food and even combine mushrooms into our ground beef to increase flavor and health benefits.
7. Smaller portions please
Good things come in smaller portions. Our millennials want a bit of everything from the menu for quality, variety and to reduce waste. Snacking is a new way of eating and represents most of the eating occasions on campus. We noticed our customers select an array of food on their plates. Some examples: 3 oz bagel, sliders made with 4 oz for protein, 2 oz of a dessert item – these are some standard measurements we use. Try this approach; it is good for your customers, good for the environment and good for the bottom line.
8. Customization is key
Everyone wants attention. Made-to-order and, personalized menu items are what our customers are looking for. This creates excitement and creates customization to individual needs. At UMass, 75% of our stations in both retail and residential operations feature made-to-order items from mac & cheese, to sushi, paninni grill, pho noodles, salads and stir-fry.
9. Speed kills when it comes to breakfast and lunch
We serve over 4,000 students in the grab-n-go areas during breakfast and lunch. Upper students are time stressed and academically focused. We plan to roll out even a greater variety of items for them in the near future. They have told us they prefer to use a compostable container to take their meal out so that they can dine at later, perhaps during class time.
10. Sugary drinks are a dying breed
Our students continue to drink less soda than ever before; in fact, our soda consumption decreased 22% compared to the previous year. We removed all soda from one of the residential dining locations and serve freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juice in 5 oz glassware - it is a big hit. Water, citrus-infused water, local milk and high quality coffee and tea are the beverages of choice.
At the end of the day, it is all about serving healthy, sustainable and delicious food. Bon Appetite.
This is Ken Toong, thank you for keeping UMass Dining at the top.