The major players of institutional food service have arrived at Trent University this week and over the course of the next five days they will be attempting to win over the hearts and minds (and stomachs) of this school’s students, staff, and community members.
Representatives from Aramark, Chartwell’s, Sodexo, and Brown’s, the four companies selected as top contenders to secure Trent University’s new food service contract, will be presenting their bids in a series of open forums held this week in the Lady Eaton College Pit.
The forums, which are scheduled between Monday, January 13 and Friday, January 17, are considered to be the home-stretch of the lengthy and ongoing process to replace the university’s current 15 year contract which expires in April.
For Nona Robinson, Trent’s Vice President, Students, and the chair of the Food Services Review Committee, these consultations are an important way for community members to engage with and evaluate the individual companies and their ideas for revitalizing Trent’s on campus food services. “In terms of community consultation, think it [these forums] are crucial,” she stated.
Robinson also noted that she has been “really impressed” so far by the amount of thoughtful input from students and community members and expects the forums to generate more productive discussion.
“It’s very easy to sort of say ‘everything sucks and I want cheaper food that’s all local and organic, and I want it available 24/7.’ But people haven’t been saying that. They’ve been saying: ‘these are things we care very deeply about so what can you do to address that?’”
In arriving at the shortlist of companies, Robinson stated that the Food Services Review Committee, which features administration, faculty, and student representation, conducted a thorough analysis and evaluation of the bids.
The submission period ran from October to early December after which the individual committee members scored each bid out of 100.
These results were then synthesized on January 7 in a marathon committee meeting with the final shortlist being revealed to the university community January 10 through the myTrent online feed.
Robinson did not disclose either the total number of companies who submitted bids or the names of those that failed to make the shortlist.
The open forums have been structured in a way that attempts to balance both presentation and discussion.
Each company will get sixty minutes to pitch their bid to the community. This is followed by a thirty minute question and answer period at which time students, staff, and community members are invited to pose questions directly to the company representatives.
In terms of student participation, both Robinson and TCSA President Ben Perry are hopeful that the forums will attract a large turnout.
On Friday, Perry confirmed that his union will be in attendance at all four forums and will being doing its part to promote the events to its membership.
“We will use our board meeting on Sunday to develop some questions for the companies and we will help publicize [the forums] to get as many students there as possible.”
Other student groups, including Arthur Newspaper and Sustainable Trent, will also be sending representatives to the forums with the latter currently running an open Facebook group, entitled “Food Forums for New Food Service Contract,” to generate interest.
Although the forums are being billed as a way for the community to have a definite say in the selection process questions remain as to how much weight community opinion will actually carry in the ultimate decision.
“It’s hard to gauge,” said Robinson in response to this question. “[The committee] has a very specific scoring matrix and we obviously want to be as fair to each company as possible.”
She explained that the most likely scenario is that strong community opinion on a particular element of a company’s presentation could increase or decrease that company’s score in that category.
“If the feedback that we get is something like, ‘Wow, I was really blown away by that company’s sustainability [plan],’ then maybe we would increase their score in sustainability.”
The open forums are scheduled in alphabetical order: Aramark, the company that currently holds Trent’s food service contract, will be first to present. It will hold its open forum on Monday, January 13, at 9:00am.
Brown’s Fine Food Service, the smallest of the four and the only Canadian owned provider, will present Tuesday, January 14, at 12:00 pm.
Chartwells, a division of the British company Compass Group, will follow on Thursday, January 16 at 9:00 am, and French multinational Sodexo will conclude the forums Friday at 1:00 pm.