While colleges and universities have long been ranked for their academics and athletics, they’re now competing for another title to attract students: best college food in America. Never underestimate the power of pork in this collegiate culinary quest.

As enrollment increases in U.S. colleges and universities, the Pork Checkoff’s foodservice marketing team is seizing the opportunity to introduce a large number of students to pork in a contemporary way, just when they are beginning to form adult eating habits.

The time is right to help grow the number of younger consumers joining our pork target. According to the most recent census, there are almost 4,600 degree offering institutions in the United States, with roughly 21 million students. Today, colleges are attracting students not only for their academic credentials, but also for their elaborate dining halls, innovative dietary programs and appealing meal plans.

These trends are creating an array of opportunities to introduce pork in college and university dining halls. We began this effort with a strategic plan to sponsor, present and attend college and university foodservice conferences, such as The Culinary Institutes leadership retreats and CSP’s Menu Directions conference. We met many of the right folks at these events and built some new relationships.

Forget Old-Style Dining

Once we started working with various campuses around the country, we noticed that the old cafeteria style of tray service using #10 cans of precooked food, serving everything out of an ice cream scoop and using boxed gravies has been replaced. Instead there are open kitchens, live fire cooking, made-from-scratch bakery items, noodle bars and authentic global cuisines.
One example where these trends are transforming dining options is the University of Iowa, where enrollment reached a record 31,000 students this fall. In April, we worked with the university’s chefs to encourage them to add more pork dishes to their menus.

During an in-depth, day-long presentation, we provided a brief introduction about the National Pork Board and Pork Checkoff programs. Then we presented a butchering demonstration to show where the different cuts of pork come from.

The rest of the day was spent developing 10 new menu items with pork cuts from the demonstration. The dishes included porterhouse chops with herb butter, Sichuan style dan-dan noodles, pork burgers, a Puerto Rican-inspired sandwich, grilled pork brisket with harissa, Jamaican jerk pork kabobs and pork fries cut from muscles in the fresh leg of pork.

Executive Chef Barry Greenberg, a two-time Iowa Taste of Elegance winner and past attendee at the Checkoff’s Pork Summit, was optimistic about what his staff members had learned from their day in the kitchen with the Pork Checkoff team. He was also confident that students would be eager to try some of the new offerings.

In addition, Chef Greenberg appreciated our focus on developing most of the dishes using value-added cuts and the fresh leg. Affordability is always a key consideration, since campus dining is often challenged with a very tight food-cost model.

More Campus Visits

To keep the momentum going, the Pork Checkoff is planning to visit the following campuses to conduct pork education sessions:

  • University of Colorado-Boulder
  • University of Missouri
  • Ohio State University
  • University of California-Riverside
  • University of Michigan
  • Colorado State
  • Michigan State
  • University of California-Los Angeles
  • University of Illinois
  • Yale University.

The Checkoff will continue to develop new pork recipes that will better appeal to the way young people eat meals today. It’s exciting to reach these kids at a pivotal stage in life and encourage them to become advocates and life-long pork consumers.