ARAMARK MEETS SPECIALIZED NEEDS OF STUDENT DEMOGRAPHIC WITH ATTENTION TO DETAIL
When most universities think of expanding dining diversity on their campuses, they typically think of offering innovative options such as vegan, gluten-free and local cuisines. But today the universe of dining preferences is wider and more vast than just the food trends making headlines. One of them is halal dining.
While several higher education institutions are offering their students a few halal dining options, Aramark recently helped a university in a major metropolitan area open the first-ever all-halal dining venue on a U.S. university campus. The dining venue now offers an innovative halal menu at breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. Aramark worked closely with a Halal Certification Program to train employees, learn how to plan recipes and purchase ingredients, and to ritually clean the facilities.
After opening in the spring 2019 semester, the dining venue was filled with students enjoying the food and leaving positive comments on social media. For example, one student wrote: “I kid you not, having an all-you-can-eat dining hall where you know everything is 100 percent halal is probably the most liberating feeling I remember ever since I came to the United States two years ago. Home run.”
The concept also scored high marks on Aramark’s Voice of the Consumer survey, including a 30 percent improvement in personalization scores, 27 percent increase in health and 12 percent increase in service satisfaction.
“We’re always looking for new ways to innovate the dining experience for students,” said Diane Pancoski, Vice President of Brand Development at Aramark. “This new option brings innovative, exciting meals to this campus’s student community.”
What is Halal Dining?
Halal is an Arabic term that means permissible or lawful in Islam according to the Shari’ah (Islamic law). The law includes specific rules for food preparation. To be halal, meat must be prepared as prescribed by Muslim law. Aramark worked with Halal Food Standards Alliance of America to define the parameters for halal service on campus. HFSAA is the industry-facing branch of Halal Advocates, which provides companies with standards, consulting and certification assistance to provide consumers with the superior quality of halal they demand.
HFSAA’s Halal Certification Program provides assurance that the food served has been thoroughly vetted to meet a high standard of halal including:
- The entire facility ritually cleansed and tested to confirm there are no traces of porcine, alcohol and other haraam (prohibited) products remaining.
- Every product used to prepare meals is vetted by the HFSAA team.
- HFSAA staff conduct regular audits to ensure the facility is adhering to HFSAA’s standards, train and educate employees and answer any questions guests have.
Aramark also paired with Yvonne Maffei of www.MyHalalKitchen.com to develop enticing menu options for students.
Meeting Halal-Certification Standards
The process of transforming an existing residential dining hall into a halal-certified dining concept began with a request from a campus religious leader who had attended the university and served as the Imam (prayer leader). He hoped to better serve the dietary needs of the campus’s more than 3,000 Muslim students. Aramark reached out to HFSAA to map a strategy. Areas that needed addressed included the ingredients, including animal proteins, staff training and ritual cleansing of the facilities.
Assessing the vast ingredients list was the most challenging aspect of the process because many products have sub-ingredients that are derivatives of alcohol or pork. The dining venue needed many ingredients to ensure a robust and varied menu.
“We realized early on that because we use so many ingredients in residential dining, we’d have to go through each of those ingredients and have HFSAA experts look at them and approve or reject them,” noted Aramark Senior Director Michael Gilligan.
For animal proteins, the two main issues are avoiding pork products and ensuring other animals are slaughtered and processed in specific ways. Aramark’s Global Procurement & Supply Chain team researched and contracted with farms and slaughterhouses that met HFSAA standards. It even found a beef-based “bacon” product to add to the menu. A long-standing challenge, however, was finding halal-approved turkey, as not many providers were available. Aramark knew it had to serve turkey or students wouldn’t be happy with the deli station. After an extensive search, it located a vendor that met HFSAA requirements.
The training program was two-fold, including a presentation that introduced employees to halal dining and what halal means. In tandem, the HFSAA experts presented on the same day that the university provided sensitivity training so everyone understood what it means to be a Muslim in today’s world.
A team from HFSAA conducted the ritual cleansing of the entire facility, including every work surface and piece of equipment. The multi-day process included applying a clay-cleansing product to every surface, then executing a series of five to six rinses with clean water. This ensures any traces of porcine DNA or alcohol are washed away.
To oversee the dining venue, Aramark worked with HFSAA to hire two on-site supervisors. Both supervisors are Muslim and are among those who appreciate the new concept.
“The day we opened, they were like kids in a candy shop,” Gilligan said. “They said it was first time in their adult life they could eat anything that they wanted out of any station in the dining room. And they were so excited to have the beef bacon. The whole experience was a real treat for them.”
Creating Satisfying Student Dining Experiences
Students are also enjoying the halal experience, whether they are Muslim or not. In fact, the university opened the redesigned dining venue after a winter break with little fanfare. It is still a main residential hall on the campus serving essentially the same student population. The only difference is a slightly different menu and halal-permissible ingredients.
“They wanted [the dining hall] to be the same great place that students can go and hang out and get a good meal, it simply happens to serve all-halal food which makes the Muslim students especially comfortable here,” Gilligan said.
Among the many reviews, the worst comment was: “What happened to the peanut butter?”
Among the best comments were:
“The food was excellent and there were plenty of options.”
“Extremely important for the Muslim community, and the look and the food has vastly improved.”
“Amazing change in dining experience! The quality of food is excellent. I can now enjoy meals as well as the friendly staff. Melissa was so sweet showing me all the new items. The chicken is… cooked with care — so soft and tender.”
The dining venue also received multiple mentions on social media, including nearly 600 likes on Instagram.
Along with great comments, the university also experienced an uptick in participation numbers for dining venues over the previous semesters.
“Typically we lose about 10 percent of our meal plan holders from fall to spring,” Gilligan said. “You see a corresponding decrease in the traffic counts. But in this case, we actually saw an increase of 26 percent in the number of patrons coming through the door in the first three days of our spring 2019 semester compared to our fall 2018 semester.”
In addition, feedback from Aramark’s Voice of the Consumer survey reported the following about the new dining venue from Q1 to Q2 in 2019:
- 30% improvement in Personalization scores
- 27% increase in Health scores
- 12% Service Satisfaction increase
- 5% Convenience increase
Bringing Dining Innovation to Higher Ed
Aramark’s foray into halal dining is just one of the many specialized dining experiences it brings to higher education campuses across the country. Along with the usual gluten-free and vegan concepts, the Aramark team has created two other innovative niche dining programs based on student demands and preferences: kosher dining and True Balance.
Aramark’s kosher dining concept is a 100 percent KOF-K-supervised certified kosher program that serves daily meals and includes a Shabbat meal on Fridays. Currently, multiple universities have incorporated kosher dining into their students’ dining experience, giving all students, including those of Jewish faith, a new option. Some of the unique features available in the program include alternating dairy- and meat-based meals, pre-made and grab n’ go meals, kosher vegan entrees, a core Parve menu, and the option to use meal plans at local kosher dining establishments.
Universities participating in the kosher dining concept include Boston University, College of Charleston, University of Delaware, University of Rochester, Elon University, UC Irvine Pippin Commons, and UC Irvine Brandywine. At several campuses, students can enroll in the kosher meal plan knowing that a mashgiach is on site daily to monitor the kitchen and ensure it follows kosher dietary guidelines.
The True Balance dining program offers students chef-prepared specialized dining options without seven of the eight most common food allergens, including shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy and wheat. Since 5 percent of the U.S. population suffers from food allergies, Aramark believes it’s important to provide students with an option that keeps them well fed, satisfied and healthy. The program includes an educational component to empower students to make smarter dining choices.
To deliver on the program’s motto, “Dine Without Restriction,” the True Balance Program has five goals including:
- Assist students with food allergies to make safe and healthy choices while dining on campus, giving them an equal opportunity to enjoy Dining Services, regardless of their food allergy or sensitivity.
- Establish a positive rapport with food-allergic students and their parents regarding food allergy management.
- Educate our managers and front line associate team on food allergies to provide students with an option to dine on campus.
- Support the living and learning environment on campus by ensuring residential dining offerings meet the needs of all students regardless of specific menu or ingredient needs and requests.
- Partner with on-campus departments and resources to engage appropriate resources and determine the best dining solutions for students with food allergies.
Several campuses feature the True Balance brand including Wake Forest University, High Point University, University of Minnesota, University of South Florida, College of Charleston, Western Kentucky University, University of Louisville, Wheaton College, Fordham University and Bemidji State University.
If you would like to explore innovative and customized dining options for your unique student demographic, contact Aramark today.