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All photos (excluding company logos) were taken by Andrew Tan.
Aramark is a name no doubt familiar to the Trent University community.
For 16 years the company has been contracted as Trent’s primary food service provider, an arrangement that has seen its fair share of tension.
On Monday the Canadian division of the Pennsylvania-based service multinational was looking to prove to staff and students that it remains the community’s best food service option.
Interestingly, Aramark was the only food service provider to forgo the formal presentation format choosing instead to pitch their bid through a series of interactive stations located around the presentation room.
This decision earned mixed reviews from students and community members with some calling it a tactic to “defuse” serious criticism while others praised it for facilitating a more personal dialogue.
Moving around the room the first station consisted of a series of detailed renderings showcasing the infrastructure upgrades the company would make to the dining facilities of each college.
“We did research on Trent’s original architect Ron Thom,” explained the station’s point-person, Myra Vanderwoude.
“What Thom said was that each college is unique but they all need to be tied together. We tried to do this with [our concept of] the Trent University Seasons Dining Service.”
The theme of “seasons,” according to Vanderwoude, serves as the foundation of Aramark’s strategy as it represents the company’s commitment to offering a unique seasonally based menu for each college.
Additionally, the first station showcased the selection of branded franchises that the company would bring to Symons Campus.
While both the Lady Eaton and Gzowski dining halls would remain generic Aramark brands, the Otonabee Marketplace would become a franchise hub with the inclusion of Subway, Booster Juice, and full service Tim Horton’s outlets to go along with the existing Pizza Pizza.
Champlain College would keep its existing Pizza Pizza and Pita Pit counters, while the Bata Library cafe outlet, currently housing a limited service Tim Horton’s, would transition to a Starbucks.
Next up was the Student Engagement station, which featured a red touchscreen feedback and nutrition kiosk that Aramark said it would install in each of the four dining halls.
“Our consumer engagement model is really based around open feedback,” stated Louise Hudson, Aramark’s regional marketing director. Under our new system, “students will have many different forums to communicate with us: online, in person, and through our employees.”
One community engagement priority the company would implement is a web-based real time evaluation system that students could use to critique the individual dining facilities.
“As soon as [students] provide the information to us it would come to our operations team and they could respond. That’s very important when it comes to listening to our consumers,” Hudson noted.
Continuing around the room to the local food and sustainability station, attended by supply chain coordinator Michael Yarymowich, Aramark specified that that it would commit to a 30 percent target for local sourcing.
This would be phased in gradually over a period of time, Yarymowich clarified, but he explained that Aramark already has a network of local food suppliers and, if chosen for the contract, would look to aggressively expand those partnerships.
Examples presented of current and prospective partners included Kawartha Farm Fresh, Sticklings Bakery, Kawartha Dairy, Yorkshire Valley Farms, and Empire Cheese.
Although Aramark’s presentation format did not allow for a traditional question and answer period, students and community members were certainly not short of opinions.
“I don’t think we need any more franchises on campus than we already have,” said first-year student Robyn Hummel, “Personally I prefer an actual cooked meal.”
Others worried about the impacts of the new dining hall designs on college life.
“[Their plan] for LEC would make it difficult to have any sort of community events or ISW,” argued one LEC resident.
While many students said they were impressed with the presentation, some noted that they still had lingering concerns about Aramark’s commitment to change.
“I don’t know if they’ve addressed the issues raised by the Raw Deal document last year,” stated Braden Freer, the Trent Central Student Association’s Vice President of Campaigns and Equity.
“It seems like they’re trying to work around the issues,” rather than dealing with them head on.
From Aramark’s perspective, marketing director Louise Hudson argued that the company has earned it’s place on the shortlist.
“There has been change and it has been ongoing,” she stated. “I don’t think it’s always been highlighted but we’ve always had a strong partnership with the community.
“We’re now trying to bring new innovation to the campus.”
Brown’s Fine Food Services
When it comes to food service providers, “you can either go big or go with Brown’s,” stated Phillip Brown during Tuesday’s presentation.
Brown is the president, CEO, and owner of Brown’s Fine Food Services, the only Canadian-owned provider to make the shortlist.
He touted his company’s smaller size, local connections, and capacity for personal engagement as key advantages over its much larger, multinational competition.
Contrasting Aramark’s walk-about presentation style from the previous day, the company opted to utilize a more traditional public forum approach and brought a team of six representatives.
Brown set the tone for the presentation early in his opening remarks emphasizing the benefits of Brown’s small size compared to its competitors.
“What we do [at Brown’s] is customize and personalize a dining solution specifically for our clients,” he explained.
“Large organizations have tens of thousands of employees, billions of dollars in sales, and supply chains. Therefore there is very little customizablity and sometimes a lack of personality.”
The theme of flexibility and customization was front and centre throughout Brown’s presentation as the representatives frequently drew parallels between their company’s size and ideals, and those historically associated with Trent University.
“Any of you students could have chosen to go to a big school with 75,000 students, one where you are more of a number than a personality,” argued Brown. “But you chose to come to Trent, where you can feel personal engagement with the school. We see a commonality in this.”
When thinking about how they could re-imagine Trent’s existing food service arrangement, the team said that they chose to “take it back to the beginning” and “pretend as if no food services exist on campus,” a decision they deemed necessary because of the unique structure of Trent’s college system.
The result of this planning approach is a food service strategy defined by two key components.
The first is a broad strategic concept called “Trent Approved.” This notion would be aimed at making Trent’s food service system accountable to students and community members through the creation of a diverse stakeholder committee made up of student, faculty, administration, and company representatives.
The committee would be in charge of overseeing and deciding upon virtually every aspect of the food service system from the composition of individual menu items to food sourcing and procurement to sustainability initiatives.
The “Trent Approved” plan would also become a recognizable brand on food packaging, a way to let students know that what they are eating has been endorsed by the stakeholder committee.
The second component of Brown’s strategy consists of a centralization of the food preparation process through the construction of a roughly 2.5 million dollar “nutrition centre.”
The centre, according to the team would be completed by the summer of 2015, would minimize food handling and maximize efficiency.
The representatives were quick to stress, however, that the actual cooking of menu items food would remain in the individual college kitchens.
The nutrition centre would serve as a centralized location for preliminary preparation, such as the chopping and peeling of fruits and vegetables, as well as for the creation of certain “grab and go” meals.
On the question of local procurement the Brown’s team stated that they have existing partnerships with Foodland Ontario and the Local Food Plus organization.
They defined “local” procurement as being from within Canada, but noted that they would also look to partner with regional food producers, and would assist desiring suppliers with the necessary inspection and certification processes.
In addition to the construction of the nutrition centre, the Brown’s team stated that they would also be open to constructing a large root cellar on campus and would refurbish the existing college kitchen and dining facilities.
Following the renovations each college would be given a unique culinary focus with Lady Eaton becoming the destination for home-style comfort food, Champlain having a variety of traditional European fare, and Gzowski sporting a Canadian theme.
Otonabee would remain market-style with a mixture of in-house and national brands. The existing Tim Horton’s outlet in Bata Library would be upgraded to full-service, the coffee bar in the Gzowski Atrium would become a Starbucks, and the snack bar in the DNA building would serve pre-prepared grab and go meals.
Following the presentation, attendees expressed appreciation of the company’s attempt to integrate students into the decision making process.
“I was impressed mostly with the flexibility of the contract and the fact that the “Trent Approved” committee would be able to make decisions more democratically,” said Trent student Julian Tennent-Riddell.
However, Trent community member Amelia Munday felt that the company didn’t do enough to differentiate itself from the status quo in terms of sustainability.
“A lot of their ideas, for example sustainable containers, Aramark already has in their cafeterias.
Thursday saw Chartwell’s, a division of British hospitality giant Compass Group, take the stage to pitch themselves to the Trent community.
Chartwell’s brought a veritable army—more than a dozen representatives, including executives, managers, and chefs, and positioned themselves as a company that has listened to the community feedback and could deliver on what community desires.
“When we first began our journey with Trent University we spoke to as many people as possible,” said Morag McKenzie, Chartwell’s director of business development.
“We learned that strong partnerships, sustainable and local practices, affordable and diverse food, and community are important to you.”
In terms of redesigning the college dining spaces, Chartwell’s was the only company to seek external advice, partnering with Toronto based architectural design firm Cricket Design.
Chris Hannah from that company discussed some of the changes that Chartwell’s would make if it was awarded the contract.
The concept for Lady Eaton College would see the dining hall retrofit into a more lounge-like setting, with a centrally located fireplace, pool table, flat screen televisions.
As a culinary feature, Lady Eaton’s kitchen would also receive a stone oven.
Gzowski’s dining hall would remain structurally the same, but the college would receive a Starbucks outlet on in its Atrium.
The changes to Champlain and Otonabee colleges would be primarily be about opening up the cafeteria space to the dining halls. Both colleges would receive wider entrances into the serveries and be modernized with more neutral colours.
Mckenzie stressed that the placement of national brands would be strategic.
“I don’t want you to get the idea that we’re just sprinkling brands around the campus,” she stated.
Similar to Aramark and Brown’s, the Lady Eaton and Gzowski dining halls would remain franchise free. Champlain would retain one national brand while Otonabee would serve as the primary branded cafeteria, housing Bento Sushi, Pizza Pizza, Austin Grill, and Subway.
Chartwell’s would also install a second Tim Horton’s outlet in Champlain College across from the bookstore in order to “alleviate the crowds from Bata Library and to capture more of the bus traffic.”
The menus for each college would be based around a recurring monthly cycle, but would be “accentuated with local flavours and on trend items,” said Chartwell’s executive chef Simon Roach.
Roach also showcased the company’s proprietary “Webtrition” application that would be placed at kiosks in all the dining halls to allow students to check the nutritional values of the individual menu items.
The application could also provide previews and reviews of weekly menus along with accompanying nutritional content.
The student engagement portion was split between a discussion of the company’s structural propositions and its online analysis technology.
Chartwell’s proposed the creation of a student food ombudsperson who would work with the administration to solicit feedback from the student community.
A dining committee would also be formed to review and discuss various aspects of the food service arrangement.
In addition, the company also shared some of its social media engagement strategy, noting that they are able to track keywords in tweets and Facebook posts to gather information about the student perspective on the food service.
Responding to a question from a community member, Lorna Willis, Chartwell’s Vice President of Student Experience and Engagement, confirmed that these social media statistics would be available to the Trent administration and to the university community.
The final aspect of the presentation was sustainability and was presented by the company’s sustainable environment manager Eli Bamfo.
Bamfo shared that the first step for the company if it was awarded the contract would be “to have a sustainability expectations meeting in order to define terms like local.”
Currently, she said, Chartwell’s views food sourced within the province of Ontario as local but this could be altered during the negotiation process.
The company would then network with local suppliers and use their products on campus.
The company also stated that it would spearhead initiatives such as a farmer’s market at Gzowski college and a local food week.
The company would work towards sourcing 75 percent of its ingredients from within Canada and negotiate additional local procurement targets based on the university’s specifications.
The question and answer period following the presentation saw community members follow up on a number of aspects.
Based out of Paris, France, the global management giant Sodexo Group was the final company to pitch itself to the Trent community as it presented on Friday.
Around the world Sodexo is known for its hospitality, real estate, security, and detention services and operates in an astonishing 80 countries, employing more than 400,000 people worldwide.
Its Canadian division currently holds contracts at 34 universities and colleges and supplies food services to over 650 campuses.
Like Brown’s and Chartwell’s, the roughly eight-member team from Sodexo Canada chose to stick to a traditional presentation/Q&A format.
This presentation was led by Michael Masney, Sodexo Canada’s director of campus business development.
Masney noted that the company is looking to enter into a “management fee” service model, an arrangement which gives the university more flexibility and control over the details of the arrangement.
He also stated that Sodexo would be willing to put “100 percent of their management fee at risk by tying their fees to certain negotiated performance indicators. This, argued Masney, demonstrates that the company “has some skin in the game.”
Unlike the previous presenters, the Sodexo team did not spend a significant amount of time discussing the proposed re-design of the college dining facilities.
Although all four halls would be renovated, the representatives insisted the company’s focus would be more on refinement than transformation.
At Lady Eaton, the company would preserve the college’s traditional atmosphere of “food and fellowship” through the maintenance of original furniture pieces coupled with the implementation of touch screen food ordering.
In Otonabee, it would construct a small stage within the dining area and commission student art pieces in order to foster a spirit of arts and culture.
Gzowski would continue to serve as an all-you-care-to-eat buffet which, according to Masney, “when done correctly, is sustainable because there’s less packaging, food is made to order, and it incurs less waste.” That college would also get an expanded beverage outlet in its Atrium.
The biggest change, however, would be seen in Champlain as Masney stated that the college has the potential to “become the central meeting place for students on campus.”
This, he said, would be accomplished through the amalgamation of the dining service, the Ceilie pub, and Seasoned Spoon into “a more continuous space.” He did not provide specifics on how or where this would occur.
Moving to their plans for sustainability, Chris Roberts, Sodexo Canada’s director of corporate citizenship, stated the company would import a number of green initiatives that have proven successful at other universities.
This would include the Grounds for Growth campaign, which utilizes used coffee grounds as fertilizer for local gardens, and their Choose to Reuse dish program. The company would also install a number of organic waste composters around campus.
In terms of local sourcing, Roberts said the team is hesitant to offer specific targets before being awarded the contract.
Instead, he promised that the management team would sit down with the university during the contract negotiation process and discuss Trent’s individual definition of local and how the company could integrate regional suppliers into its supply chain.
The most interesting aspect of Sodexo’s presentation came towards the end as Masney announced that the company has already taken steps to partner with local business owners to bring downtown flavours into Trent’s dining halls.
Both Lisa Dixon, owner of Black Honey Cafe, and Tim Weatherup, the owner of Night Kitchen Pizza, were on hand for Sodexo’s pitch and Masney explained that the company would reserve space for Black Honey baked goods on the shelves of the Otonabee marketplace.
Night Kitchen Pizza, he stated would be available on a full time basis in Otonabee college starting in year two of the contract.
Additionally, Sodexo would initiate a spotlight on local cuisine where the company would periodically invite local chefs to campus cook at a particular dining hall.
Following the presentation, community members seemed intrigued about this element.
However, some were also critical of the administrative nature of Sodexo’s pitch.
“There wasn’t a single picture of food in the slide show,” said fourth-year student Sam Milliken, who also noted the company was the only one not to provide food samples and refreshments.
Another community member, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed concerns about the company’s local sourcing policy.
“How they’re going to source things locally seems to still drive things towards the commercial supply chain.
“There’s no direct farmer relationship and that’s concerning.”