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Beyond Trends: How the New Normal is Driving Changes to Campus Operations

By Kevin Rettle

The higher education industry has always been marked by evolution. Each incoming class of students brings new perspectives, preferences, and expectations. But recent events have brought a different kind of change. The shifts that have taken place in the past year go beyond simply refreshing a concept with bold colors and trendy menu items. As the world learns to live with the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, campuses are reimagining core operational processes and service models.

The latest chapter of President to President highlights this idea. In “Post-Pandemic Learning and Innovation,” James Madison University President Jonathan R. Alger, JD, explains how his campus explored innovative new ideas around student and institutional success while facing the many challenges of the past year. He and his team have reconsidered core elements of how they achieve their mission and meet students’ evolving needs.

Sodexo similarly recognizes the urgent need to innovate in response to immense shifts in consumer expectations. Generation Z is coming of age during unprecedented times, and recent events are shaping their behaviors and preferences. For example, this generation greatly values personalization and services that add convenience. Weary of, or having faced running out of essentials, Generation Z also gravitates towards subscription services that ensure they always have what they need.

Crowded dining halls with winding queue lines have become a thing of the past in the era of social distancing. Operational models built on the idea that dining on campus is a shared, communal experience have been challenged, giving way to new process and solutions.

The global pandemic hastened the already rapid shift to digitization in every aspect of life, including dining. Sodexo’s new Bite for Universities mobile app offers the convenience of mobile ordering and payment and minimizes physical contact with pick-up and delivery options, as well as allowing for extended hours and variety through dark (a.k.a. ghost) kitchen models.

Sodexo’s new meal kit delivery program, launching in spring 2021 at more than 100 U.S. campuses, supports students’ growing desire to cook at home, but with the ease and convenience of having pre-portioned ingredients delivered to their door. Meal kits through partners like Hello Fresh offer diverse and varied menus and fresh, high-quality ingredients, as well as an unrivaled level of convenience.

In addition, Sodexo will launch Fill My Fridge in the coming months. The grocery subscription program allows students to remain stocked up on groceries while staying in, giving them—and their parents—peace of mind.

Our new normal requires rethinking how and where we serve students and create exceptional campus experiences. Safe, convenient options that provide both quality and variety are paramount to providing value in today’s campus environment. Although they are driven by a confluence of circumstances that we all hope will soon be behind us, these changes, just like the ones Dr. Alger and other university presidents are grappling with, will persist long after the world has returned to normal, as consumers recognize the immense value these programs and services offer.

Kevin Rettle

January 20, 2021

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