The start of the coronavirus meant the swift end of self-service in college and university dining halls across the country. Prior to the pandemic, students were able to select a multitude of varieties and customized choices.
For example, the University of Nebraska’s salad bar dropped from more than 100 combinations to just 25. Navigating that abrupt shift has been a challenge—but it’s also brought about fresh insights and some welcome change.
While fewer choices may seem like a negative across the board, students and operators alike have experienced a lift in enjoyment by interacting face-to-face as staffers now plate and assemble food.
With the unpredictability of 2021, Foodservice IP analysts (as well as segment operators) recognize the challenge of prediction with Covid-19 restrictions still in place.
From our work in the segment and the preparation of a new study for 2021, we were able to identify a few trends and changes that manufacturers can expect from the channel as permanent fixtures as a result of Covid-19:
Five Trends Expected to Impact College and University Foodservice
|Covid Trend||“Staying Power” Post-Covid||Description||Implications to Stakeholders|
|Mobile Ordering||High||Facilities have converted space into cloud or ghost kitchens to produce meals that students can pick up when they’re ready.||Different pack sizes, smaller shipments and similar requirements of segments such as retail.|
|Back to Basics Comfort Food||Low||Eating “green” and social consciousness is important in this segment, yet for now, colleges are seeing students seek more foods like French fries, burgers and mashed potatoes.||Formulations that are healthy (and socially conscious) but also taste very good and remind students of “home.”|
|Staff Serving||High||Pre-Covid-19, students were becoming accustomed to build-your-own stations, but plexiglass and masks put an end to it.||With fewer self-serve, manufacturers may have the ability to explore recipes that require professionals but are craveable and easy to make.|
|Less Variety||Moderate||With fewer students on-campus, operators have significantly reduced the abundant choices to meet the whims of a particular group of students. This has become too wasteful.||Ideas of back to the basics type of recipes and offerings. Variety is not expected to be limited for long, particularly with the diversity of a student population.|
|Death of the Dining Hall||Moderate||The Covid-19 outbreak forced college and university dining directors to shutter dining halls. While communal dining will not disappear, expect to see courtyard or other spaces outside of the conventional dining halls.||There will likely be little impact to the way manufacturers approach new dining spaces when working with foodservice directors.|
Once Covid-19 has passed and students begin to return in full force, a new set of trends may emerge. At this point, however, these are a sampling of ideas from our work and research that we believe have staying power.
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