There are more than 18 million college students in the U.S., according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and they are increasingly selective about where and how they spend their foodservice dollars. At colleges and universities across the country, students are speaking up and telling their schools’ dining-hall operators they expect the very best. To many students, the very best is synonymous with brand name, packaged foods.

Technomic’s 2011 “College & University Consumer Trend Report” asked college students to think about certain types of food, then rate how important it is to them that their school offers well-known brands of each. The findings are compelling and reveal clear differences between college students today and college students just two years ago, when the survey was last conducted. This year’s report found students are not only aware of the presence of national food brands when purchasing food from an on-campus dining location, they also believe it is important such brands be offered. Perhaps even more interesting, the report clearly shows students feel more strongly about some food items than others.

They place the most importance on the availability of name brand cereals, chips, pretzels and desserts. More than one in three students polled selected a top two box response for each of these items (38% for cereal, 37% for chips or pretzels, and 37% for desserts), meaning they deem it important or extremely important that well-known brands are offered. Cereal had the highest percentage of all, with survey-takers reporting a clear preference for established brands, such as Quaker and Kellogg’s. On the flip-side, students are not as concerned with brand name meats, cheeses, yogurts and soups. Well-recognized soup brands, such as Campbell’s and Progresso, for example, are very important to less than one third (27%) of students.

Dining-hall and restaurant operators (chain and independent alike), as well as foodservice suppliers, can take this information and use it to their advantage. If they are not already doing so, they should consider offering a selection of well-known brands in the food categories that matter most to students (cereals, chips, pretzels and desserts) and advertising them as such. A restaurant operating on or nearby a college campus that serves Häagen-Dazs ice cream, for instance, could emphasize this on the menu. Or, a campus convenience store could join forces with General Mills for a marketing campaign that promotes its selling of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

With vast purchasing power, college students represent a major customer base. Anyone aligned with the foodservice industry should recognize college students today are very brand-conscious, and they will likely notice—and care—whether that bag of chips on the store shelf is Frito-Lay or generic. In some cases, it can mean the difference between making and losing a sale. pf

Egging it On

American kitchens have not turned their backs on the egg. Hard-boiled, scrambled, fried, poached--breakfast, lunch or dinner--the egg is still number one, according to a recent report from Mintel.

As reported in the July 6, 2011, QSR®, penetration is extremely high, and egg use remains steady, at 94% of all U.S. households. In fact, 92% of the respondents say eggs are an important part of a healthy diet. Organic producers might have a struggle, however, as more than half (57%) of respondents apparently do not think organic eggs are any healthier than regular.

In fact, eggs seem to be here to stay, regardless of price, as half of those households that purchase eggs would not change their habits, even given price increases. White eggs are purchased by a large majority (88%), followed by brown eggs (27%). Organic and free-range eggs, with 17 and 14%, respectively, are most widely used by those aged 25-34.

Cholesterol is a concern of 30% of those polled, meaning they eat fewer eggs than they would like. According to Bill Patterson, senior analyst at Mintel, “The over-55 egg buyer is a prime target for low-cholesterol eggs and egg substitutes and could be reminded that cholesterol levels in eggs have fallen.”

Patterson also sees eggs as an “economic source of protein” in people’s diets, citing that since the recession began, many consumers use eggs as a substitute for more expensive proteins, such as meat. From April 2009-June 2010, in fact, the 30-day average of eggs used increased to 33 eggs per household, its highest level in seven years, according to Mintel. pf