The College Student Shopper

May 13, 2011

College students show rising interest in higher quality foods, local farms and sustainability by starting up co-ops on campus.

In August of last year, CNN reported that students at colleges and universities were turning to food stamps at record rates. In particular, the state of California saw enrollment increase as much as 113% at some schools. But this lack of funds doesn’t seem to affect the fact that today’s generation of college-age young adults has an appetite for quality food and an interest in local foods and sustainability. And to prove it, co-ops and food collectives are popping up on campuses as a way for students to access these types of foods at a more attainable price. 

It is true that school cafeteria food has always gotten a bad wrap, but lately schools across the country have been stepping up the menu to keep up with the more sophisticated palates of today’s kids, but maybe not enough. This week, a Washington Post story featured a Wesleyan University food co-op where students can use their dining points to buy gourmet cheeses from a local farmer. Located in the basement of a dormitory, the co-op has drawn hundreds of students hungry for fine cheeses to consume as is and to use for cooking proving that not only is this generation looking for higher quality, sustainable foods, but they are also interested in cooking. But that's not all.

At Berkeley University, the Student Food Collective dedicates itself to providing farm fresh, healthy, locally grown, sustainable and ethically produced foods at affordable prices for students and for their community, and in addition uses the collective as a way to educate students on food systems and nutrition. Membership requires two hours per week working at the co-op or serving on a committee, and in return the member receives a 10% discount at the store. The stores offers a fairly wide selection of packaged foods, bulk foods, refrigerated items, fresh coffee and pastries, natural cleaning products, health and beauty products, and of course, fresh produce. The store also hosts events such as films, lectures, presentations, and tastings that cover topics like farming research, seafood, pesticides, and an array of current food issues. And of course, there’s an education blog, a Facebook page and a profile on Twitter to follow. 
There are many things for retailers to learn from this generation of shoppers that will more than likely carry these food habits with them from college into their adult lives and passing these practices on to their own children. Supermarkets can tap into these shoppers and use these college co-ops as a model for how they fulfill these same needs: locally grown foods, gourmet products, and events that serve community interest in food issues. And even more important, retailers can make use of social networking avenues to promote to these young shoppers and connect them with each other and the store by building a sense of community. 

Food stamps may be on the rise for this generation, but they are a band of savvy shoppers looking for alternatives to stretch their dollars and still be able to have high quality foods. Click here to read a previous story on The Lempert Report about fraternities hiring private chefs for their houses.