The process to select Trent University’s next food service provider has at long last reached its conclusion. On Friday, Associate Vice-President Students Nona Robinson confirmed to Arthur that Chartwells Canada, subsidiary of British hospitality giant Compass Group Plc, has been officially named the successful bidder for the university’s coveted foodservice contract.
The announcement came almost a month later than expected as Robinson originally predicted that the administration would name the winner by early March. However, it was widely known that change was coming to Symons Campus as incumbent Aramark Canada leaked news in late February that their bid had not been selected.
Chartwells Canada is set to become Trent University’s first new foodservice provider in 15 years and will be taking over operations from Aramark on April 27. The company is known as a food service juggernaut in Canadian higher education as it serves more than 50 post-secondary institutions nationwide, including almost 30 colleges and universities in Ontario.
According to Robinson, who has chaired the university’s Food Services Review Committee since 2012, it was Chartwells’ attention to detail and willingness to invest in the Trent community that won them the contract.
“[Chartwell’s] basically took the RFP and throughout their proposal were going through identifying number by number the different things that they were going to be addressing,” she said.
However, Robinson explained that it was not easy for the committee to choose a winner as each of the final four bidders submitted a strong proposal.
“Every single bidder brought in some really interesting ideas which was really neat to see. It was a difficult decision because [the companies] were really giving an effort to give us what we wanted.”
Aramark Canada; Sodexo Canada; and Kingston, Ontario-based Brown’s Fine Food Service were the unsuccessful bidders.
Friday’s confirmation marks the end of more than two years of planning, consultations and speculation within the Trent community centred on the future of university food service.
Instead of using a traditional Request for Proposals process, the multi-stakeholder Food Service Review Committee, which featured faculty and student representation, elected to pursue a consultative “Request for Innovative Solutions” model that used open-forums, discussion groups and online engagement to develop a broad vision for Trent’s desired arrangement. Instead of receiving a straightforward list of requirements, prospective bidders were asked to develop their own comprehensive approaches to meet the community’s food service needs.
In February, more than 50 students and community members packed the Lady Eaton College Pit on four consecutive days to hear the pitches from the four finalists.
Robinson explained that this unique approach had its cost—mainly an extended timeline—but stated that she was very happy with the results and would “highly recommend” it going forward.
The five-year contract will significantly alter the food service landscape at Trent as it will allow the university administration and community to have a stronger say in the shaping of policy. Although the contract continues the existing “profit and loss” management model through the first two years, Chartwells has agreed to transition to a “management fee” model beginning in year three. This shift will give the university significantly more responsibility, risk and decision making power.
Interestingly, the Food Services Review Committee initially examined the idea of Trent moving to a fully self-operated food service model, but decided the school lacked the financial and human resources for such radical transformation. When asked if moving to the “management fee” model is part of a broader strategy to move towards a self-operated food service in the future, Robinson said it could be a possibility, “hypothetically, if the model works really, really well.”
Starting this fall, students will have flexibility in their meal plans. The board plans, which are currently mandatory at Lady Eaton and Gzowski colleges, are being scrapped in favour of a campus wide “a la carte” policy. All students, regardless of college affiliation, will have the same amount declining balance “meal dollars” that they can spend at any Chartwells location on campus.
In another victory for students, unused meal dollars will carry over to the next academic year. This was a key demand from student groups during the consultation process. The meal dollars will not, however, be accepted at the university’s independent outlets.
In terms of sustainability, Chartwells has agreed to seemingly aggressive targets for waste diversion and local sourcing.
Although the company will start with a 60 percent landfill diversion rate, it has pledged to increase that number to an impressive 90 percent by mid-contract.
Similarly, for local sourcing Chartwells is aiming to procure 50 percent of its non-franchised food and ingredients from within the province of Ontario. This includes 35 percent from within a 250 km radius and two percent to be sourced from the Kawartha region.
Additionally, the company will contribute money to Trent’s 50th Anniversary Fund for the construction of a new on-campus greenhouse. It has also stated that it will work with Trent students to integrate produce from Trent’s own vegetable gardens and farms into its supply chain.
Julian Tennent-Riddell, a representative of campus environmental group Sustainable Trent, says that the group is cautiously optimistic about Chartwells’ targets.
“This is a significant improvement over Aramark’s local sourcing targets, and we welcome that change,” he said in an online statement.
“However, I think the percentage [of food] from the Kawartha Region should be higher, at least 10 percent and growing each year by three to five percent.”
For her part, Robinson acknowledged that these local sourcing targets could be improved upon as the contract progresses. She said, given this fact, the percentage of ingredients sourced from the Kawarthas could be “increased a fair bit.”
From an infrastructure perspective, the dining halls, serveries and kitchens in Champlain and Otonabee colleges will be getting much needed renovations this summer as Chartwells has agreed to contribute $3 million to revitalize dining facilities in each of Trent’s four on-campus colleges. Gzowski and Lady Eaton will be getting similar treatment in summer 2015 due to the university wanting to keep at least two dining halls open throughout the summer.
Throughout the consultation process one of the biggest complaints from students was the fact that they felt they were not given enough of a voice during Aramark’s tenure. To remedy this issue the new contract mandates the creation of a student Food Ombudsperson position, selected by the TCSA, which will be responsible for liaising between students and Chartwells management.
Furthermore, an ongoing multi-stakeholder Food Committee will be established comprising “significant” student representation. This committee would be merely advisory during the first half of the Chartwells contract but would become decision-making upon the transition to the management-fee model.
The existing unionized staff of CUPE local 3205 will be retained by Chartwells and the company has promised to provide ongoing training and staff support. The company has also stated that it will create “a range of student positions” on campus and has pledged to provide student groups with food handling training for running their own events.