Between classes, jobs and extracurricular activities, college students need flexibility and convenience. Operators are adding grab ‘n go items to increase on-campus sales amidst rising off-premise competition. By offering more variety and on-trend items in this portable format, they can compete with fast-casual restaurants and win back these dollars. Proximity and speed are still major dining factors as more than half of students eat on campus each week and 44% order food to go. For those who seek midday options, kiosks and carts throughout the school grounds are one of the top three sources they depend on.
Grab ‘n go often consists of pre-packaged salads, wraps, sandwiches, hummus and pita packs. The portability catches the attention of students, and so does tapping into current trends. This generation of diners wants popular flavors in addition to foods with a health halo. Global cuisines, particularly Indian, Thai, Korean and Japanese influences, are big attractions. African ingredients are also trending upwards with peri peri spice and fonio. While pita chips are already regularly consumed with hummus, other Middle Eastern dips, such as baba ghanoush and tzatziki, are spreading quickly.
A simple and transportable way to combine multiple crowd-pleasers is through bento boxes. A traditional Japanese lunch, this format gives rise to all kinds of snacking variations. These Turkey Bento Boxes contain three recipes that flaunt Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences, from turkey medallions with Green Goddess hummus to watermelon, pita chips and tzatziki sauce. The rise of other unique pick-me-ups—including dill pickle popcorn, seaweed, crunchy quinoa bites, functional beverages and cinnamon sprinkled wafers, beans and pumpkin seeds—demonstrates an overall willingness to try new flavors, allowing operators to be creative with their offerings.
Many colleges and universities already recognize the benefit of stations completely dedicated to on-the-go students and staff. The University of Colorado Boulder features “CU on the Run,” which serves all-day hot and cold options, including sandwiches and pasta salad, for those in a hurry. At Amherst College, they offer a variety of on-the-go options throughout the week, ranging from sushi to turkey wraps to hummus and carrots. This Green Goddess Pasta Salad is a dish students can dig into between clubs and classes. With asparagus, haricots verts and apple slices, it’s a spruced-up pasta salad drizzled with creamy Green Goddess dressing.
Grab ‘n go extends beyond afternoons and evenings. Students say they eat snacks 7.5 times per week and breakfast only 4.9 days per week. To boost the early daypart, offer items these scholars can pick up while heading to class. Bowls are easily carried, and their health appeal and convenience captivate diners. This Turkey Quinoa Breakfast Bowl features powerhouse ingredients, such as turkey, quinoa and kale, to start the day off right.
As the populations of colleges and universities change, so do food preferences. Expanding the selections of portable foods and incorporating on-trend flavors is a win-win for both students and operators. This segment will need to adapt to evolving needs, and all signs indicate that grab ‘n go won’t be going away any time soon.
College and University Consumer Trend Report, Technomic, 2019.
CU on the Run Grab-n-Go, University of Colorado Boulder, 2020.
Lewis, Abbey. What New Data Shows About College Dining, Foodservice Director, June 2019.
Spicing Up the Snack Selection, Foodservice Director, August 2019.
What Students Want From College and University Foodservice Operations, CATERTRAX, August 2019.