June 2, 2011. The University of Winnipeg has been praised in the media lately for a dramatic turnaround in the quality and profitability of their food services operation; Macleans' 2009 University Rankings had taken the university to task for poor food and poor service, and the institution's dining operation was seeing attrition in its student customers. In the two years since, not only has the University of Winnipeg recovered, but its food services operation -- which now focuses on organic, locally sourced food -- is the most requested caterer in the local community, its head chef has won an Iron Chef Award, and the return on investment has been so high that the university is preparing to expand its operation by launching an off-campus restaurant.
This week, we spoke with the University of Winnipeg's president, Lloyd Axworthy, to ask what other institutions in the US and Canada could learn from the success of his institution's transition to locally sourced foods. He offered several key takeaways worth noting:
- Conduct thorough research into student demand
- Consider public-private partnerships that can help manage costs and mitigate risk
- Recognize that your purchasing program can actually impact the market in ways that will allow you to negotiate lower prices
- Investigate job training and workforce development grants that can help defray the costs of training dining services workers, when expanding into locally-sourced foods