Today’s college students live in a global society, but want local foods. They want value and authenticity. They want it all, but at a good price. Those were a few of the messages from Ron Morasco, an executive chef who now serves as senior director, offer development – campus services for food-service company Sodexo USA.
Morasco spoke to last week’s Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit in Arlington, Virginia, providing a snapshot of food priorities on college campuses and his company’s challenges in meeting them. Sodexo, he says, faces some of the same challenges seen across the food industry – high meat prices, weather-related supply issues and shifting demand trends. Colleges that contract with the company for food services want innovation, differentiation and sustainability in the food-supply chain. However, he says, finances remain the number-one issue for the company’s clients.
Current “hot-button” food issues on college campuses, Morasco says, include the following:
- Local production – Some campuses want 50 percent of their food sourced within 50 miles. This naturally creates considerable challenges for suppliers. Sodexo is working to better define “local” in the context of different types of foods. At the same time, students participate in global communities and want ethnic foods and ingredients – the “glocal” dilemma.
- Naturally raised foods are a priority for many students.
- Wellness is a key consideration, with campuses requesting foods low in sodium, trans fats, etc.
- Lean, finely textured beef (LFTB) – When the “pink slime” controversy broke, Sodexo studied the issue and made a decision to continue using LFTB in some of their ground-beef products. Their decision was based in part on sustainability, Morasco says, as they view LFTB as a means for using as much of the animal as possible. Their supplier removed the process of using anhydrous ammonia for pathogen control and substituted other food-safety interventions.
- Sustainable seafood – The company sources 60 percent of its seafood from supply chains certified as sustainable.
- Chicken cages and sow stalls – With the company and its clients under relentless pressure from animal-rights groups, they are transitioning toward obtaining products from cage-free poultry suppliers and pork suppliers who shift away from gestation stalls.
To address some of these issues, Sodexo recently signed an agreement with the “Real Food Challenge,” a third-party certification program focused on transparency for suppliers to colleges.
For food suppliers hoping to market products to Sodexo, Morasco suggests focusing on wellness, understanding the customers, such as college students, and getting creative in providing convenience and value.