Clean eating and avoiding allergens are top concerns for college students
September 11, 2017
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This post is sponsored by Sweet Street.

Finding foods that agree with specific dietary needs and knowing where the ingredients in their food come from are among the top priorities for college students and their millennial and Generation Z peers. College and university foodservice operators can employ a range of tactics to meet diners’ needs at all the locations across campus where they eat.

Special diets are the order of the day

Gluten-free menus and other options designed with special diets in mind are among the top trends in college and university foodservice, according to reports from Foodservice Director Magazine and Technomic. Special diets were among the top trends in college foodservice for 2017 identified by Food Newsfeed, which wrote that “food allergies, in particular, are of concern to parents and students, who are often living away from home and making their own food decisions for the first time in their lives.”

To offer options for students looking to avoid certain ingredients, college foodservice operators could turn to individually-wrapped items that are free of allergens such as gluten or nuts. The barrier of the wrapper prevents cross-contamination and gives students peace of mind. Printed wrappers can offer extra reassurance by declaring that foods are allergen-free and providing a list of ingredients so students can see exactly what they are eating.

Dessert company Sweet Street developed its individually-wrapped Chewy Marshmallow Manifesto Bars to offer a convenient option for consumers looking to avoid gluten. “There was such a need in the marketplace for an indulgent on-the-go treat that was also certified gluten-free,” said Diana Duddy, national account director for Sweet Street. “The versatility of our gmo-free, certified gluten-free Chewy Marshmallow Bar has made it our fastest growing item in the College and University segment. Students are looking for fast, delicious and comforting. It has it all.”

A craving for clean label, transparency

Knowing exactly what goes into their food is increasingly important to college students, and not just those with allergies or special diets. Millennials and members of Generation Z value transparency and clean ingredients, which for some consumers means shorter ingredient lists. Some 64% of millennials believe that fewer ingredients mean a snack is healthier, according to a report by Amplify Snack Brands and the Center for Generational Kinetics. In addition, 79% said that understanding all the ingredients increases their level of trust in a packaged snack, Convenience Store Decisions reported.

Convenience goes to the top of the class

Although quality ingredients and transparency are important to students, they aren’t willing to sacrifice convenience. Eating on the go is a way of life for millennials and Gen Z, who are the main drivers of the snacks-as-meals trend, according to The NPD Group. Members of Gen Z “tend to care more about convenience than the next new food trend or nutrition,” and they value “snack options such as pizza, baked goods, doughnuts and sandwiches,” Foodservice Equipment & Supplies reported.

When it’s time to grab a bite, college students aren’t just looking in the traditional cafeteria. Catering operations and campus convenience stores also play a big part in feeding students, and 83% of campus foodservice operators say their department is responsible for managing campus c-stores, according to FoodService Director's 2015 College and University Census. 

All these different venues for buying food across campus give college and university foodservice operators an opportunity to give students what they’re looking for -- whether it’s lunch in the cafeteria, catered treats for an organized event or a grab-and-go study snack from a convenience store. Having more options may be driving students to visit on-campus dining destinations more frequently. Traffic to college and university foodservice outlets, excluding on-campus chain restaurants, increased to 1.6 billion visits in the year ending March 2016, an increase of 20 million visits over the previous year, according to the NPD Group.

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