Bottled milk, juice, and sodas no longer available on meal blocks

The high cost of food and gas are partially to blame for a recent change in the availability of beverage options on meal blocks, according to Housing and Dining Services.

As of the beginning of this academic year, the Underground and Skibo Café no longer offer bottled drinks as part of a meal block. Beverage options on the block at these two campus eateries now include refillable fountain sodas and juices, milk, or water.

According to Kim Abel, the director of Housing and Dining Services, all other campus dining facilities with soda fountains had already restricted the block beverage to a fountain drink before the recent change at the Underground and Skibo Café.

Student Affairs Dining, which controls the Underground, Skibo Café and the Zebra Lounge, cited the Pepsi Pouring Rights Agreement as one reason that bottled beverages will no longer be available as part of a meal block.

The agreement, which went into effect Jan. 11 of this year, is a contract between Pepsi and the university that stipulates that dining locations on campus serve Pepsi products exclusively. The Pepsi Pouring contract changed the way independent campus dining vendors purchased beverages.

“Because of the flexibility vendors had regarding where they could purchase products and what types of products they purchased before the [Pepsi Pouring] contract, some vendors experienced an increase in their beverage prices after the contract went into effect,” Abel explained.

“I saw some increases in bottle cost with the Pepsi contract,” said Mark Hastie, general manager of Student Affairs Dining. “All the increases in cost that we’ve had — we can’t pass that directly on to the students.”
Instead, Hastie limited the beverage selection on the meal block to a fountain drink, which is substantially cheaper than a bottled drink. While the selection of drinks has been narrowed, the reduced costs allowed Hastie to increase the selection and portion size of other menu items.

“Without offering the bottles, I can offer better food,” Hastie said. “We’re still able to offer a refillable soda, and we increased the portion sizes and decreased the cost on some of the food items on the menu.”
The change occurred without much reaction from students.

“I haven’t received any complaints,” said Shelby Kilpatrick, manager of the Underground. “It doesn’t seem like anyone really noticed a change.”
Hastie said he has received “less than 10 complaints.”

“Most of the feedback we’ve gotten has been positive feedback about what we did with our side dishes on the menu, which are much larger, much healthier, and much better values,” Hastie said.

Side salads, fresh and steamed vegetables, and fresh fruits are all part of Campus Affairs Dining’s revamped side dish options available on meal blocks.

However, campus dining may soon be in for a big change.

Abel announced that Housing and Dining Services will form a special task force this month to evaluate the meal plan structure and review bids for campus food vendors.
The university’s contract with the current food provider, Parkhurst, expires June 30, 2009.

The task force will include undergraduate students from the Student Dormitory Council and Student Senate, select graduate students, and individuals from Staff and Faculty senates.
The task force will begin reviewing Dining Services in October and will continue throughout the rest of the year, according to Abel.

“I think there are a lot of good things about our dining program, so the task force will affirm what we’re doing now and set the bar higher for what we want to improve on,” Abel said.

In addition to the task force and the existing Dining Services Advisory Council (also made up of students, faculty, and staff), Housing and Dining will hold focus groups and town meetings where students can voice their comments and concerns.

“What’s most important to me is that we have goods and services that are reflective of our community,” Abel said.