For whatever else one might remember their college days for, it probably won’t bring to mind memories of the best food choices. Between studies, sports and a social life, the typical student doesn’t leave much room to search out varied menu options, but when the appeal of fast food and endless pizza deliveries fade, what else is there? Increasingly, on college campuses around the country, the answer might be found at their college bookstore.
Barnes & Noble College has steadily been expanding their food offerings from its simple coffee-house fare origins to a present-day presentation that covers a wide range of convenience foods. Among the chips and Pop-Tarts®, the convenience sector that is most intriguing to Lisa Shapiro, Director, Cafe & Convenience for Barnes & Noble College, is fresh foods. “It’s another way to make our stores a destination throughout the day,” she points out. “We’re creating day-long store traffic by providing fresh food choices for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner.”
The success of fresh foods at Barnes & Noble College has now spread to over 125 store locations and is reflected by a 40% growth in the sector last year. “Fresh foods merchandise has done really well with our other convenience food offerings, and there’s also a lot of cross-merchandising between our food and café choices – giving our students one more reason to visit the store,” Shapiro explains. Although the fresh food options vary by store location, they can include a wide range of salads, impulse items such as hardboiled eggs and pickles, and a selection of fresh fruits, fruit drinks and yogurts. Staples, such as fresh turkey, ham and tuna sandwiches and Italian subs also feature strongly on the fresh menu.
But when your products have a shorter shelf life, having a reliable supply chain is key. “It’s important to find the right partner,” Shapiro admits. “We collaborate closely with local commissaries in the fresh food business and work with our key national partners on specialized transportation needs and different choices, ingredients and presentations,” she adds. In regions where stores have developed significant volume, Shapiro and her team have developed special programs, which include customized offerings such as sandwiches on a pretzel roll or vegetarian choices. They also work with each of the local commissaries on regional or ethnic preferences such as couscous or tabouli salads. “If you’re selling a Cuban sandwich in Miami, for example, you need to make sure it’s the very best product,” Shapiro stresses. “The important point is to ensure our partners understand who our customers are, and how we can merchandise and execute at the highest levels,” she adds.
The move towards fresher, healthier food options is a national trend and Shapiro knows this is where her merchandising is headed. “We listen to what our students want in convenience,” she says. “And our model rivals the best-of-breed convenience retailers. We want to be a hub where students can find a good variety of the kinds of food choices they want, quickly and easily, and create a convenient stop in their day.”