Flavor Hunter: College & University Foodservice Trends
“Chefs and foodservice directors in colleges and universities have an amazing opportunity to create exciting food for an appreciative and engaged audience,” says Andrew Hunter, Kikkoman foodservice and industrial corporate chef. “Think about it: you’ve got a huge group of adventurous, educated 18- to 25-year-olds, in many cases from all over the world, who are eager to try new things. They’re at the threshold of adult life and poised to do really cool things, and food’s a big part of it.”
“Food isn’t just for nourishment for this group,” adds Hunter. “It’s part of how they connect with their friends and learn about the world. For colleges and universities,” he explains, “it’s a straight-up necessity to provide bold multicultural flavors, lots of variety and the opportunity to customize their own dining experience.”
This is also a group of diners who are savvy about a number of issues, including food allergies and sensitivities, locally and sustainably sourced foods and better-for-you dining options.
“Students are very vocal about what they like and dislike,” says Hunter. “And dining services are responding in order to satisfy a customer base that may be coming in for breakfast, lunch and dinner, five to seven days a week.”
It’s no wonder that the decision about where to go to college so often includes evaluations of which school has the best dining. It’s also no coincidence that many of the most highly rated schools serve food that’s not only interesting and diverse, but healthy and sustainable.
Here’s what it takes to keep the customer satisfied in the college and university (C/U) segment:
• Global Flavors: Whether authentically traditional ethnic food or a more multicultural approach that borrows from different culinary traditions, students in higher learning settings enjoy the opportunity to sample the world. This extends not only to the more popular “first-wave” cuisines like Italian, Mexican and Chinese, but also to less familiar regions, from Southeast Asian and Japanese to Peruvian, Indian and Caribbean.
Kikkoman products offer a convenient, authentic way to explore Asian cuisines of all types, from traditional Soy Sauce, Rice Vinegar and Teriyaki Glaze to more uncommon Ponzu Citrus Seasoned Dressing & Sauce and Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce.
But that’s not all, “Kikkoman ingredients are at home in cuisines beyond Asian,” says Hunter. “Products like soy sauce can be used as a flavor enhancer and an umami ingredient. For instance, adding a little Ponzu can make the flavors of a fish taco more vibrant, or using some Less Sodium Soy Sauce to boost the savor notes of a healthy blended burger. This is a great way to offer something new and exciting to students.”
• Sustainable Sourcing: Consumers in general, and Millennials in particular, have become more attuned not only to their own health, but also to the health of the planet. Many colleges and universities are leading the charge with robust efforts in such areas as recycling and waste reduction, green building design and sustainable food sourcing, including increased use of organic and local products. Some schools even have their own on-campus gardens.
The fact that Kikkoman products are made in the USA, is a point of credibility for the brand. In addition, many Kikkoman products, such as Rice Vinegar, can be used to create flavorful quick pickles and refreshing salads, like coleslaw, that are an excellent utilization for different vegetables, and can help the kitchen use every part of an ingredient.
• Customization: Allowing customers to design their own meal—be it a sandwich, an Asian noodle bowl or a pizza—is essential to the promise of offering not only near-endless variety, but also the availability of fresh, made-to-order food and a customized dining experience. A “build-your-own” concept allows students to eat as much or as little as they like, avoid unwanted foods like gluten or animal protein, and tailor the flavors and ingredients to exactly what they’re in the mood for. Then they can do it all over again the next day, the same way or differently.
“An important part of the customization trend is giving students a chance to try something new, like a kebab bar with different rices, grains and sauces,” points out Hunter. “Students want the dining department to offer different things. Even if something doesn’t succeed, they’re coming back the next day ready to try something else.”
• Flexible Platforms: Menu concepts and equipment that offer operators the ability to change up food offerings on a seasonal, weekly or even daily basis have become central to many college and university foodservice designs. An exhibition plancha (flat-top) grill, for instance, can be used to create Mexican quesadillas, all-American grilled sandwiches, Asian stir-fries or Brazilian barbecue simply by changing the ingredients, sauces and seasonings for the prep. This kind of focal-point display cooking also adds to the excitement and fresh appeal.
“The versatility of Kikkoman products is a great tool for chefs, regardless of the type of cuisine,” Hunter says. “There’s a place for them wherever flavor and excitement are in demand.”