College Kids Need Food Education

Discussion
Nov 21, 2006

By Bernice Hurst, Managing Director, Fine Food Network


Catching young people as they start their university lives gives retailers three opportunities to influence the way people eat. The students are starting to shop and feed themselves for the first time; they will continue shopping and feeding themselves for decades to come; many will become parents and start shopping and feeding families.


Being a student means being free and independent of parents for the first time. But being responsible for yourself includes the opportunity to be irresponsible if you choose, leaving behind all the lessons on healthy eating and gorging on convenience and junk food. For some, the results are soon felt in weight gain, frequently dubbed “freshman 15” — a quick lesson in cause and effect that is much more real than all the warnings from childhood.


As Lucy Tobin, a student at Oxford University, said, “Our problem is not ignorance… convenience often takes precedence.”


Two recent studies show American students gain weight during their freshman year although not necessarily the fifteen pounds estimated. On the other hand, the gain can continue up until graduation. Irregular schedules, busy-ness, stress and readily available snacks are frequently blamed, along with unhealthy cafeteria choices.


While temptations will continue to exist, retailers, farmers’ markets and organizations focused on health and nutrition have an opportunity to show students that it’s not difficult (and can be very sociable) to eat well.


Some actually lose weight by defining salads and fruit as convenience food. Others point out that many residence halls do offer healthy choices. It’s up to people to choose them.


Looking at the bigger picture, students are forming the eating habits of a lifetime. Getting hooked on food and snacks that are nutritionally lacking may have both short-term (freshman 15) consequences and lead to longer-term health problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc.


Grocery stores often make pronouncements about their desire to promote better nutrition. University students may provide a desirable target market to put that rhetoric to the test. Creating a connection with students during their first experience out on their own may lead to a relationship that will last a lifetime.


Discussion Questions: Are college-age consumers a market that grocery stores should be concerned with developing? What are the implications for retailers
that are successful in developing a relationship with consumers at this stage in their lives? What can grocery stores do to develop those relationships and encourage healthier
food choices at the same time?

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10 Comments on "College Kids Need Food Education"


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Kai Clarke
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

The college market (18-24) is a large subset of a very powerful purchasing group. These students represent a high-purchasing power, top dollar spend among the rest of their age group. Any retailer should be focusing on developing their brands and increasing the shopping experience of this group. It is during this time that many consumer’s lifelong habits are formed and many explore things for the first time (since they are out of the home). This group needs education on most things including food, but this mirrors society in general. Our lifestyles demand convenience, and pay only lip service to nutrition. This group reflects these same nutritional education needs as their peers and the age groups both ahead and behind them. The opportunity with the college segment is that they are largely confined to the University system and the supporting retailers. This gives the opportunity and obligation for this community to provide better guidance, information and education on nutrition, lifestyles and healthy alternatives.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

Actually, grocers should start developing a relationship with consumers before they go to college. Even if it is with kiddie carts and cookie clubs. As for encouraging healthier food choices, leave that up to the parents. It’s the grocer’s job to sell them as much food as they can, regardless of whether or not it’s healthy. Is beer healthy? That seems to be what grocers promote the most in college towns.

John Lansdale
Guest
John Lansdale
15 years 6 months ago

I’ve just watched 4 of them going out (to college), coming back (home), going back again (own apartment). The lure of highly addicting (fat/sugar/milk products/alcohol) fast food (including convenience groceries) is strong. All of their colleges had excellent campus food services. The food was generally healthy, with choices for all types of diet. But these were quickly ignored.

The lure of convenience, including social factors, started it, but the food itself soon took over. Coming back, a couple of them still live off junk while the other two, having rebelled from college food, cook their own.

The junk food kids have that freshman 15 and continue to gain weight; the other 2 are getting back to normal.

So my answer is – 50% of the kids would benefit from “honest” nutrition help. I’d try a “cook your own” message. Campus cook-offs, fun training sessions integrated with web.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

Just one extra comment on how students in the UK can shop for food if they choose – supermarkets located within striking distance are so used to students taking carts back on campus with them that they send their own collection vans around at regular intervals to retrieve them. Those that are located too far away to reach on foot often have free buses (which can be used by both students and other customers who are carless). So supermarkets here do have an opportunity to reach these young people and start persuading them to become regulars.

Robert Leppan
Guest
Robert Leppan
15 years 6 months ago
Bernice Hurst’s comments on student eating habits brought back a lot of memories for me – pizza, peanut butter, hot dogs and Kraft dinner. This was my personal nutrition pyramid during most of my university time (plus a lot of beer). I recall eating these foods primarily because they were quick and easy. Most college kids would prefer to eat better but campus life is hectic, running to catch classes, cramming for exams, meeting friends plus student dorms and off-campus housing may only provide cooking basics such a plastic utensils and a small microwave. Retailers near colleges can cater to students in a very basic way by focusing on nutritious foods that are easy to prepare. Frozen entrees like Lean Cuisine, Smart Ones, WeightWatchers are a no-brainer to prepare and offer reduced calories and fat. Fruits like bananas, apples, oranges also offer simplicity and eating on the go. Cereals, yogurts, energy bars are also other categories for grocery retailers near colleges to feature for student shoppers. It’s not up to retailers to educate students about… Read more »
Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 6 months ago
Grocers should abandon building relationships and try honest marketing, treating all customers the same, charging all customers the same prices and keeping sale items in stock. Retailers have no business “marketing” to groups or segments IF it ignores other consumers in the process. In our quest for the almighty dollar we have gotten too cute. Marketing used to be a communication system. It has now devolved into “tell them what they want to hear”! In many cases grocers deal in dishonest practices and have become so conditioned that they don’t even recognize it. When is the last time a grocers cashier told you that you saved $X.XX on your purchase because you are a member of their “club.” You didn’t save a dime! You received discounts that manufacturers have given to grocers to pass on to you. Next thing we know the grocers will be claiming that coupon discounts are another way they save you money because they redeemed the manufacturers coupon. There are some grocers out there like Publix who don’t try and play… Read more »
Brian Numainville
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

Given the obesity problem in the U.S., I think many students would appreciate the opportunity to eat healthier. But as others have pointed out, it is a hectic time of life and convenience does play a large role in what college kids eat. Those with meal plans in dorms also purchase far less food from area supermarkets. Having said all that, local supermarkets with these type of student populations definitely should provide options that give students healthy choices, but ultimately the student will need to desire those foods and purchase them.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
15 years 6 months ago
Just last weekend I visited my alma mater, a large Midwestern university for the first time in a long while. The main campus, dorms, Greek houses and football stadium looked almost exactly the same. What was different is the plethora of mini marts, fast food chains and ATMs dotting the campus neighborhood. Back two decades ago the “on the fly” food options were many fewer and one made certain to plan one’s schedule around the hours that meals were being served in the dorms and Fraternity houses along with enjoying a special meal “out” on the weekend. Students I knew in off campus housing, then, had small kitchens in which they prepared economic meals and snacks often with staples brought from home and they rarely ate out. The grocery store played an almost nonexistent role two decades ago and as far as I can see plays almost no role on a college campus today because they are usually located too far away from the students to make it feasible. Parents can only hope that if… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

Education doesn’t always result in behavioral change. Every cigarette pack has a warning message. Millions still smoke. Grocers who try to educate their potential customers about healthy eating are probably wasting their money. College students already know what’s healthy and what isn’t.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
15 years 6 months ago
We all know that healthy habits can last a lifetime, and they start at very young ages. Moms are the primary caregivers and gatekeepers for food and so most of the focus on health is aimed at this target audience. College-age consumers shouldn’t be a grocer’s primary target. Yet there are opportunities to have a local supermarket tie into the university community in many ways for those consumers who do or might shop there. Offering convenient and healthful “choices to go” for breakfast, lunch and dinner are one example that reaches the college-age audience as well as busy moms and families with hectic lifestyles and not much time. A fresh salad bar with convenient hours is a plus for many consumers. Focusing on university themes like back to school, homecoming, and big games through innovative marketing in products and store decor communicates a local image. Sponsoring a campus event such as sports activities or a local walk for the homeless, for example, also reminds the students as well as the faculty and administration that the… Read more »
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