The university is in discussion with Sodexo this year as part of the review process in its ten-year contract.
One of the key issues for students living in residence has been seeking additional healthy food options.
Mark Walma, assistant vice president of student services at UNB, said the university is evaluating ways to increase the variety of healthy options but added there’s no clear consensus on what’s to be done.
Walma said there’s interest among others in the university to see additional healthy options, ranging from instructors to administration.
“There’s an effort and a focus [on healthy choices], but one of the things I ran into when discussing this was [the question of] what do we mean by healthy?” said Walma.
He’s heard concerns ranging from vending machines only offering salty snacks to those saying they didn’t want to purchase any drinks in plastic bottles.
“Someone will say that’s not the problem, sodium is the problem … or they’ll say sugar isn’t a problem, aspartame’s the problem,” Walma said.
Vendors also face issues due to limited resources such as vending machines that lack refrigeration in some areas.
“We think of pretzels as a healthy alternative to potato chips, so do we go on the relative?”
Walma noted there was interest in having options like apples in vending machines, but said there’s concern that the products wouldn’t cycle fast enough, leading to waste.
Those spoilage dates and the relatively short shelf-life of fresh products like fruits and yogurt are of particular concern.
“We hope to see better options, but in [vending] machines in particular, I’d rather see a student eat a bag of potato chips than a yogurt that has gone off,” he said.
One thing he’d considered was designing a program to use local produce, but supply was likely to be an issue.
“When you’re feeding 1,000 students in residence … there isn’t enough produce being produced nearby to supply enough of those goods.”
In the meantime, Walma says there are options for students looking to eat well, but those options make take longer than their grab-and-go counterparts.
“There are a lot of places you can get very good food on campus … that being said, you have to wait longer.”
Walma understands students often face a time crunch and waiting six or seven minutes in the stirfry line isn’t as attractive as grabbing a slice of pizza and leaving.
“It’s funny because demand drives what’s provided and if we start seeing lineups at the stirfry line we might add a second line [and make things faster] but first you have to convince people.”
Walma said the university assembled an impromptu committee this year on the issue of healthy dining choices.
“It’s a complicated issue, but it’s one that we are really focused on, certainly.”