Contract caterers are playing an increasingly vital role in keeping university students on campus, experts have said.
The comments came as research revealed that the pull of the high street is becoming stronger for many students. Sodexo's biennial University Lifestyle Survey of more than 2,000 students, published today (11 September), revealed that 67% (2006: 44%) no longer principally hang out in campus bars, preferring to head offsite.
Peter Taylor, head of universities at Sodexo, which operates at 25 locations, said caterers were increasingly being used by clients to keep students, the majority of which live away from the campus, on site. "There's an increasing push for us to work with universities to keep students on campus," he said.
Food service consultant Chris Brown agreed. "Universities need to attract students, both from home and overseas, and then keep a non-captive population on campus," he said. "In terms of perception, catering is now more important as it's integral to this."
University students present some unique challenges for caterers. As well as looking for quality - as they are used to on the high street - and value, they are often sensitive about brands, Brown said.
"With brands there are always ethical concerns and we've experienced cases where students have refused to let in certain well-known names," he said. "Also, as with business and industry contracts you also get brand fatigue - someone could be eating on campus most days for three years."
- 67% of students try to eat healthily.
- 63% look for free range products
- 51% are interested in buying British.
- 70% value price when eating out
- 78% cite quality as important.
Source: Sodexo survey of 2,000 plus students
By Chris Druce
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