The food trends taking over college campuses

Food is a passion and an important part of daily life for college students, from following the latest food trends to socialising over a meal with friends. In our latest research into the US student market, we delved into this hot topic.

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Eating out is a regular activity for students, who often need to get food on the go due to their busy schedules. “In between school, work, and sports it’s easiest to eat out,” 4th year student Khallisa told us. Our survey found that 83% eat out at least once a month, and 60% at least once a week.

Eating out isn’t just a convenience, however. It’s a popular social activity, and a chance to check out the latest trending food spots. They discover restaurants through social media, especially Instagram, Facebook videos, and blogs. They like to share photos of their food, so it’s always a bonus when the meal and the restaurant itself look Insta-ready.

The key factors that would convince students to go back to a restaurant, according to our survey, are good food and an affordable price, followed by friendly service. As for what would encourage them to eat out more often than they do currently, 64% wished for a wider variety of restaurants in the area, while 43% want more healthy dining options. This was led by the female students (among this group, the percentage rose to 48%), who recognise yet are still affected by the body image pressures driving the health food trend, but the male students we spoke to also had nutrition on their mind.

It’s also important to note the growth of vegetarian and veganism: this generation of students will expect this, and any other common dietary requirement, to be well catered for wherever they dine.

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While our focus group were keen to suggest they like trying new cuisines and supporting independent restaurants, one question in our survey told a very different story: 70% of students would rather eat at a familiar place than try somewhere new. This shows that when it comes to food, brand loyalty is strong. It might be fun to check out the latest hot spot on a special occasion, but day-to-day they look to their trusted favorites to serve the dishes they know and love.

Student staples today include all the leading Italian, American and Mexican food brands, from Domino’s to Chick-Fil-A and Chipotle. There is a clear preference for fast casual or ordering in over traditional fast food restaurants. When choosing a coffee shop, they aspire to the hipster ideal of studying in a cool independent café, but in reality convenience often wins, and they’re just as likely to be found at the campus Starbucks.

Read more about college students’ views on eating out, shopping online and much more in our Student Shopping Report, available here.