FRANCIS BACON once said ‘Knowledge is power’ and he couldn’t have been more right. Really understanding your audience is the key to growth in any business, and that can only come from frequent research to gauge the shifting nature of consumer opinion.
Earlier this year, TUCO conducted the largest ever global study into the eating habits of students, looking at the comparative differences between UK and US undergraduates, the opinions of overseas students enrolled in universities across Britain and the food trends currently being driven by millennials, which are set to become part of the mainstream foodie scene.
The huge level of insight gained from this exercise offers university caterers up and down the country guidance on where to take their offering next, what they need to do to improve services and indeed, what they should keep doing the same as ever!
This in-depth intelligence is a major competitive advantage for university caterers but it should also serve as a wake-up call. There are areas to work on; the research showed that whilst almost half of international students were satisfied with on-campus catering only 20% felt they were offered choices that met their religious and cultural needs.
What makes this – and many other points across the research set – great news is that there are clearly big markets to tap into and drive footfall amongst the student and staff population. Students remain driven by convenience, and what could be more convenient than the food they want right outside the lecture hall. It’s all about using the information to your advantage.
The key to this is to really take it all in and not make snap changes; after all this is a broad look and not all of it will apply to your own establishments. If you have questions or want to share thoughts on the research you can get in touch with the Research Committee Chair Phil Rees-Jones via [email protected]
REPORT ONE: USA STUDENT FOOD TRENDS (from students’ perspective)…
Does it follow that “what starts in the USA – comes to the UK?” This first report looks at how the eating habits of UK students compare to their US counterparts – revealing the different eating cultures across the pond.
- Key findings in brief:
- The UK is ahead on healthy eating – 59% of UK students say they eat what they consider to be a healthy diet but only 35% of US students say campus does a good job of offering healthy foods.
- 37% of US students regularly use mobile technology to decide what to eat, make orders and pay for their food on campus.
- 58% of American students eat on campus regularly, with US students making particular use of vending machines and facilities during the evening, suggesting an inclination towards convenience foods and late night eating habits.
- The UK is following in the footsteps of the US, with Mexican food (which is already a mainstream cuisine in the US) rapidly growing on UK campus menus.
- Both UK and US students cite a low price point as the most important factor when purchasing food.
- Students see eating occasions as less defined than traditional three
meals a day with meals extending to five smaller meals per day, suggesting an opportunity for caterers to drive new revenue through snacking.
REPORT TWO: CATERING FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
With rapidly rising numbers of overseas students – a reported 435,500 in 2013/2014 – and with over 50% of overseas students preferring to eat on campus, this report looks at how this has changed the way universities approach their catering facilities, to accommodate world fusion food offering and balance traditional needs against contemporary modern eating trends.Key findings in brief:
- 67% of international students like to try different dishes that they may not have tasted before.
- The top three cuisines international students would like to see more of on university menus were Chinese (42%), Italian (31%), and Japanese (30%).
- Of all dietary requirements the most common was Halal food, with 14% of all respondents flagging this.
- Only 5% of students surveyed want to eat British food. 84% want to eat a ‘mix of foods from home and elsewhere’.
- Alcohol doesn’t feature largely in their diet with only 3% drinking ‘on most days’. 26% answered ‘never’ and 29% answered ‘hardly ever’.
REPORT THREE: GLOBAL FOOD TRENDS
To complete the full outlook on trends and perceptions, the food people undertook a major analysis of food trends across the world, exploring the current and emerging states in 36 cities across five global regions and examining the menus of 2,305 outlets to gain a complete picture of the future of food.
Key findings in brief:
- 12 current macro food trends, over-arching casual, fine, on-the-go and leisure feeding.
- 84 micro trends, which underlie these.
- Students have come to expect that they can customise their meals.
- At the same, there is a huge rise in single speciality outlets.
- Food and eating is no longer just about consumption but experience and students also look to be immersed and stimulated when dining out.
- Rules no longer apply – anything goes and consumers generally are looking for totally unique dining.