One of the most recent news makers within college foodservice has been food trucks. Consumers have been drawn to the unique offerings food trucks deliver, such as “grown-up” mac & cheese and Korean tacos, as well as the surprise convenience it provides on the streets. As of late, a number of colleges have developed their own food trucks in order to provide their students with the same benefits – convenience and unique items, all within a student’s budget. The food trucks are an innovative way to provide seasonal, unique, and trendy foods that will help keep student spending on-site.

According to Mintel’s Food Trucks – US – September 2013 report, about 24% of consumers have visited a food truck in the last 12 months, and among those who did visit a food truck, 31% said they purchased food because they just happened to be passing by. Considering the traditional college campus, students are often running from class to class, and in turn, look for an easy and quick way to get a meal or snack. The mobility of food trucks provides students with a fresh meal between classes, with current campus food trucks utilizing Twitter to get in touch with the student in regards to their location.

  • At California State Polytechnic University, the “Polly Trolley” food truck offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals to students on campus. The Polly Trolley’s menu includes Asian and southwestern cuisine, as well as Starbucks coffee. This campus food truck moves throughout the day, so they have encouraged students to follow them on Twitter in order to track their locations (The Polly Post).
  • The University of Maryland has introduced a food truck called Green Tidings that rotates their menu once a week, and offers fresh, sustainable, unique foods to their students. Examples of past items are braised lamb sandwiches, cod tacos, and falafels, all of which are approachable items with ethnic flair (Diamondbackonline.com).
  • “Twisted” is the newest food truck to be added to the University of Kentucky’s dining services. Students can purchase food from their four rotating menu options, including Asian tacos, sliders, Greek cuisine, and an Asian noodle bar. The food truck accepts cash, credit, and dining “flex dollars” (KYkernel.com).
  • At Assumption College in Mass., Sodexo created an on-campus food truck, aptly named “Oxedos” (which is Sodexo backwards). The truck travels throughout campus for lunch and has offered a unique spread of items, including grilled cheese, the “South End Fenway Frank”, and a Korean BBQ wrap with pulled pork (Telegram.org).

Appealing to Students through Ethnic Dishes

College students are also ethnically diverse – in Mintel’s Marketing to Multicultural Young Adults – US May 2012 report, the Hispanic population aged 18-34 is predicted to grow about 35.1% from 2006-16. Teens are predicted to post a stronger growth, approximately 46% from 2006-16. Asians are not growing at nearly the same clip as Hispanics, but the 18-24-year-old population is forecasted to grow about 20.5% between 2006-16, which is still remarkable. This uniquely diverse population represents a group of consumers who have grown up traveling the world, eating ethnically diverse foods, and they want foods that give them authentically ethnic experiences. For example, Millennials are more likely to seek Mexican and Chinese cuisine on menus compared to other age groups, according to Mintel’s Innovation on the Menu: Flavor Trends–US–August 2012 report. This puts pressure on designers of cafeteria menus, though foodservice directors have responded.

A look at Mintel’s non-commercial database, part of the Menu Insights library, which features university menus, shows that ethnically-oriented foods are popular on campus menus. Here are a few highlights from Q2 2013, the latest data set available:

  • East Carolina University offers an Arugula Grape and Sunflower Seed Salad, a Mediterranean item that is part of its Lighter Side Menu.
  • Texas A&M University-Sbisa dining hall serves Spanish Rice, with baked and sautéed garlic, green bell pepper, onion, tomato, paprika and rice.
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill-Rams Head Dining Hall features a Mediterranean-Italian-inspired Kalamata Pesto Penne pasta dish, with penne, pesto sauce and Kalamata olives.
  • San Jose State University-Club DC-serves a Pan-Asian-influenced Miso Glazed Fish Filet, a fish filet that is glazed with miso.
  • University of Kansas-Ekdahl Dining Commons features a Cajun Jambalaya as part of its core menu, with stewed dark roux, tomato, onion, okra, meat and seafood.
  • University of Georgia-Bolton Dining Commons offers Southwestern/Tex-Mex-influenced Seafood Enchiladas, featuring seafood, enchilada sauces, cheese and filled and rolled corn tortillas.

One of the innovative features of food trucks is creating a rotating menu, depending on the seasonality of food items or events around town. For college campus food trucks, rotating menus allow for diversity among flavors, which can draw more students to utilize the program.

Making Food Truck Dining Affordable

In the meantime, food trucks offer college and university campuses a unique venue to engage students in their foodservice offerings. 18-24-year-olds are more likely than any other age group to seek out food trucks for dinner, but cite that price is the most important criteria to making a food truck purchase, according to Mintel research. Easily connecting students’ meal plans to food truck purchases can promote repeat visits.
Colleges can capitalize on the food truck trend by developing an experience that is unique to the school: create themed menus based on big sporting events, provide food at off peak times and late night, and keep students in the loop through social media and engaging marketing. With that in mind, campus dining can develop a strong culture around their mobile food offerings.

 

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