By Ashley Rafalow (NYC Food Policy Center at Hunter College), Claire Uno (Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education and Policy at Teacher’s College, Columbia University), Thomas Forster (The New School)
Recently, representatives from the New School food services management team provided the New York City University Food Policy Collaborative (a group of food policy focused educators and administrators based at several local colleges) an in-depth look at how they committed to sustainability and aligned with the Real Food Challenge, increasing the “real food” prepared and served from 6% to 44% over two years. They told the story of the New School engagement with “farm to institution,” both in a historical context and in terms of current management, including the roles of food service contractor and student engagement. Here we highlight key takeaways to help those everywhere along the good food spectrum to create real change in their organizations and institutions:
Changing food service in a meaningful, sustainable way begins with data collection
You need to know who your eaters are, what values they share, and whether you have supportive food service directors. Benchmarking tools, like the ones used by the Real Food Challenge, are critical.
Engage key stakeholders
Your students, faculty, staff, and upper management should all be providing feedback and input throughout the process. This can be achieved through focus groups, surveys, lunchroom visits, class exercises, and more.
Communication is key
On campus, in the lunchroom, and on the food itself, your marketing materials should be appealing, creative, modern and relevant to your audience.
Don’t forget taste!
Congratulation! Your food is locally and/or sustainably sourced and prepared by workers who are compensated fairly, but how does it taste? Quality, flavor, taste are crucial to consumer acceptance.
Price vs. value- what’s more important to your student population?
Each institution has a different demographic make-up. Understanding your customers will help you make decisions on pricing and menu items and balance good quality with affordable prices. Think creatively- perhaps cost savings can be achieved through smaller portions of more expensive ingredients, item swaps, buying in-season?
Many entry points to evolving your food service – every institution starts from a different place
Maybe you’re not in a position to completely revamp your food service program, but are there small changes you can make that over time will contribute to a healthier, more sustainable institutional food environment? Can you leverage your contracting process? Making changes in the language of RFPs and renegotiating contracts is a great place to make changes that will reverberate through your food service program. Ask questions no one has asked before and look for opportunities within your existing system to find leverage to make changes. And remember, collecting data is key (see Point 1)!