Going the Extra Mile

Reach out to meet the unique needs and expectations of student athletes and other niche customer groups.

Please don't skip this article. I understand that many of you might feel tempted to do so. When you are spending so much of your days and weeks in procuring ingredients, menu items and supplies and rearranging work schedules simply to get meals on the line, the very idea of assertive marketing and new menu development projects likely seems like a creative luxury that is a bridge too far right now. But at least give it a skim or clip it to read once the school year has ended. Because if legislative advocacy fails and child nutrition program waivers are not extended past June 30, you will need to muster your energy and your forces to leverage every means you can to draw a loyal following of customers to your cafeterias in SY2022-23.

Marketing is essential in most foodservice segments—and in K-12, there are pluses and minuses to having a relatively captive audience for a dozen-ish years. With students continually moving up from elementary to middle to high schools and changing cafeterias as they do so, you always have a significant number of new customers to attract and then retain. Attention should be paid to general marketing strategies, of course. Menus that balance familiarity and variety. Serving lines that boast multi-sensory appeal, delivering high-quality visuals, tastes and aromas. Warm and friendly customer service. Themed events and activities that surprise, delight and engage. Communications—traditional and social—that intrigue.

Another smart strategy is to reach out to groups of students who have unique needs, interests and expectations related to the school nutrition program. This can be a long list, including, for example, students enrolled in high school culinary arts programs, marketing/business classes/clubs or family/consumer sciences classes. In this article, however, the focus is on just three groups: student athletes, students with non-medical dietary needs and students in agricultural programs. Every school district has its share of athletes, whether they are official participants of school teams or private clubs/leagues—or are just active on the playground! Most districts also have students who seek menu options that will conform to religious requirements or with personal preferences. And across the country, many students are involved in organizations like FFA and 4-H, as well as programs run by cooperative extensions and, of course, farm-to-school initiatives. ...

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