To the TRU community,
The Thompson Rivers University Students’ Union has made improvements to campus food services a priority. You may have and likely will hear claims from TRU management that food service is good enough, we should take what is offered, and that we risk ‘paying dearly’ if we dare to ask for better. We write to you now to make clear our motivation and dedication, to share our aims and actions, and to respond to those who would oppose real change for the better.
We heard clear calls from students for better value through competitive prices and higher food quality, for variety to satisfy tastes and accommodate dietary restrictions, for hours that meet the campus schedule and support campus life, and for reduced lines and wait times.
We are committed to making those calls a reality, and are taking two actions to that end. The first aims to work in the existing system in which one company holds an exclusive contract for campus food service. The second aims to transform that system by introducing the benefits of competition.
We have submitted recommendations through the university budget process to address your concerns with the current exclusive provider. Improvements so far have fallen short, and we are disappointed by the tone and content of TRU management’s initial reaction to our requests.
Hours have seen the most improvement. The Den is now open until 10:00PM. Starbucks, Tim Horton’s and the U&M Deli are also open later into the evenings. We have and continue to publicly recognize and support these improvements.
Variety and options have not improved so much. There are now fewer outlets than under the exclusive contract that expired in 2013, and fewer still than promised in the provider’s bid for its current contract. The closure of the CAC cafeteria eliminated multiple outlets. A promised expansion in Old Main to introduce Triple O’s, Miso, Bento, Extreme Pita, Purblenz, and Sultan’s never happened. In existing outlets, management claims ‘there are now far more gluten free, vegetarian, vegan and Halal options.’ To those who told us options are lacking, they simply say you’re wrong, and their priority is to ‘dispel the myths on campus.’ We think you deserve an analysis and action plan on dietary and cultural needs, not a defensive marketing campaign.
On lines and wait-times, your concerns are also dismissed. Specifically, at Starbucks and Tim Horton’s, where you told us the lines are worst, management says ‘locations are audited on a monthly basis by their corporate district managers to enforce standards.’ You told us that wasn’t working, but no further action has been committed.
On value, price, and food quality there has been no change and no commitment.
While we will follow up, these limited improvements reflect that a take-it-or-leave-it exclusive contract system provides little incentive to meet our needs or expectations, even when TRU formally asks for our input.
That is why, for genuine change in the long term, we launched the Hungry for Choice campaign to call on TRU to introduce competition and its benefits to campus food services.
Competition would lead multiple providers to seek comparative advantages through different and specialized products, giving you more authentic choices. Competitors would also seek advantages such as lower prices, higher quality, faster service, or a range of hours of service. There will always be a role on campus for a provider of banquet, catering, or cafeteria services, but no one provider can meet the full range of campus needs and expectations. Only multiple providers in a competitive market can do that.
The official reaction to this campaign has been defensive and hostile. We are not surprised. In any call for meaningful change, there is denial and fearmongering from those who benefit from the status quo. This kind of opposition turns on false claims that what is good from them is always good for us, and that we couldn’t possibly do it any other way.TRU management, in its anxious endorsement of the status quo, has made these same mistakes in its false claim that we need an exclusive provider. They give the exclusive contract credit for benefits that are really based in our community – benefits that could be delivered by competing providers who would also improve food service.
For example, management touts student jobs and wages as a function of the exclusive provider. The truth is that jobs are supported and wages are paid by consumers – the TRU community – not a certain employer. More specifically, Kamloops employers including cafés, restaurants, and bars also readily hire students and accommodate their schedules. TRUSU’s Common Grounds coffee shop employs students, and participates in the Education and Skills Training Program for students with cognitive challenges. Kamloops businesses have demonstrated commitment to students, and could only be expected do more as campus providers.
Management also boasts that the exclusive provider returns revenues to the university to offset operating costs. Again, that revenue is ultimately paid by us, the campus consumer. Should competing food providers have access to the campus market, they too could be expected to pay competitively from their sales for that access. There is no reason to believe that restricting access to one provider guarantees greater returns.Finally, TRU management praises the exclusive provider’s charitable donations. They are appreciated, but to be held hostage by them is distasteful. Hundreds of student scholarships are funded by the community, and any food provider on campus could also be expected to contribute. Similarly, contributions to the TRUSU Food Bank are actually generous donations from faculty, staff, students, and visitors who pitch in at the till. On the other hand, are we to understand that the current provider would refuse to give back if it was required to compete?
Our community, as both consumers and businesses, is at least as productive, caring, and giving as the exclusive campus food provider. To suggest otherwise is not just inaccurate, but also offensive. There may be an exclusive food service contract, but no one has a monopoly on creating jobs, doing good works, or community giving.
If TRU management is confident in what the current provider has to offer, they shouldn’t have a problem giving the campus community access to other choices.
We don’t confuse what is best for the current provider or easiest for management with what is best for the TRU community. Implied and empty threats to withdraw community-based benefits don’t deter us from pursuing the kind of food service the community has called for and deserves. We know that service can only be fully and consistently secured by consumer choice between competing providers.
Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done. Please show your support for the Hungry for Choice campaign. Sign the petition at trusu.ca/hungry-for-choice.
For more information, contact:
University Governance Coordinator