Today’s college students are driving evolution in the food industry by demanding everything from altered menus to sustainable practices to the adaptation of new technologies.
At universities all over the country, foodservice has become a center of innovation. Hormel Foods spoke with university foodservice directors to get a better idea of what Gen Z values in food.
Students are More Selective
Watch any young adult order food at restaurants and grocery stores and you’ll notice they are incredibly informed about their food choices. “Their palates continue to get more and more complex,” says Senior Director of Dining Zia Ahmed at Ohio State University. “They still love eating chicken tenders and fries, but food diversity and sophistication have changed tremendously over the last two decades.”
To stay up to speed, Ahmed holds regular tasting sessions for students, then offers dishes using those approved foods as LTOs to test them on a wider audience.
And while vegetarian and primarily plant-based options used to be a special accommodation, they are now taking center-stage—allowing operators to get creative with meat in other parts of the meal. As one foodservice director even points out: “we’re using meat as more of a side dish.”
They Want to Try New Foods
Students are getting more educated about global food systems and are more willing to take risks on new ingredients. This has led to an increase in global offerings on campuses, especially as international student populations grow and more American-based students study abroad.
But authenticity is key. There’s an accompanying demand for global dishes to be as true to the dish’s original makeup and prep methods as possible.
Awareness and concern about sustainability are higher than ever and students expect their dining halls to do their part in moving towards more sustainable food systems.
“Taste is important to my students,” says Rebecca Selesky, Director of Culinary Services at Michigan State University. “But so is the sustainability of what we’re serving—the welfare of the animals and where the products are coming from. Working with suppliers who meet those requirements is a priority for me.”
Pandemic-Era Tech is Here to Stay
Following the celebrated return to in-person dining, some technology and distancing practices that were more widely adopted out of necessity are here to stay, including:
- Mobile ordering
- Contactless payments
- Food lockers
- Robotic kitchen systems
- Automated delivery vehicles
With an audience that has a strong say in the future of dining, foodservice operators need to be as accommodating as possible. “We will continue to be nimble,” Selesky says. “Food is going to continue to be important to students. Five years from now they’ll be even more knowledgeable, and I’m excited to make those changes and be on target for those trends.”
This is a summary of a Hormel Foods article originally published in March of 2022. Read the full article here: Colleges Are Shaping the Future of Food