Today, college students are smarter and savvier about their culinary preferences, and it's causing university foodservice operators to change their game in order to keep kids on campus instead of crossing the street for something better.
But what does "better" mean, and how is it driven by demographics?
For starters, it's all focused on Gen Z, the largest demographic segment in the history of mankind. Based on Bloomberg analysis of United Nations data, Generation Z will comprise roughly one-third of the entire global population this year, edging out Millennials as the largest demographic for the first time.
Depending on which source your reference, a quick scan of the internet shows the following Gen Z character traits:
- * Less use of television
- * More focused on products versus experiences
- * Entrepreneurial and competitive
- * Motivated by security
- * Digital natives being they've grown up with connectivity
- * Diverse and multicultural
So based on just a cursory review of Gen Z, it's likes and dislikes, and it's general characteristics, how can they translate to college and university foodservice? How are they changing menus and service delivery? What flavor profiles are hot?
Let's take a look.
If Gen Z is the most diverse and multicultural generation in our nation's history, it goes without saying our college cafeterias should reflect that. Add on the fact that college and university campuses are often filled with international students and faculty, and there's an even bigger reason for on-campus dining facilities to include ethnic and multi-cultural menu options. Flavor trends will certainly change from year to year, but the fact they're becoming more diverse will not.
Gen Z is eating healthier for themselves and for the world at large. They're looking for better ways to engage in sustainable practices, and food choices are a large part of those efforts. From salad bars to meatless burgers, college and university foodservice directors enjoy a growing list of products and ingredients that make meat-free meals easier to provide.
Yes, we just mentioned sustainability to some degree by mentioning plant-based meals, and yes we've already talked about sustainability on college and university campuses in a previous blog, but we cannot overstate how important sustainable practices are to Generation Z. From fresh and local sourcing to sustainable seafood and antibiotic free proteins, this generation cares about clean, sustainable food more than any in history.
A SENSE OF COMMUNITY
Though some say Gen Z is more concerned with a quality product than a quality experience, when it comes to dining, experiences really do matter. Eating isn't just a chance to get full or find nourishment, it's a place to unwind, to socialize, and to find a sense of community that can often be so difficult for those who are new to campus.
"There's school or work and there's home, but how do you create this kind of third-place getaway?" asks Costel Coca, a design principal at Anaheim-based Webb Foodservice Design in an article in Foodservice Equipment & Supplies magazine. "That's what companies like Starbucks have done so effectively, and that's where much of college and university dining is headed," he says. "When we start thinking about kitchens and foodservice, we're now starting with the experience and the story we want to tell in the facility before getting to its functional aspects. It's about a couple of key factors. One is a desire to create a neighborhood vibe, and that's being done, in part, via micro restaurants. We're designing restaurants more than we are food stations, and there's a heightened focus on the aesthetic value of the facility."
Generation Z is one of digital natives, essentially meaning they were raised with smartphones from the very beginning. They've been "connected" their entire lives. With this level of technology-usage comes an expectation that technology should make our lives easier, and this mentality extends to foodservice. From mobile ordering to convenient pick-up, the next generations expect technology to play a major role in how we eat.
In this article, we talked a lot about college and university foodservice trends. In reality, these trends extend not across college campuses but across all areas of foodservice. Though the applications are different, each and every characteristic we listed above is relevant in restaurants, in senior care communities, in corporate dining rooms, etc.