Food service partnership still undecided

By Samantha Stark

Food service management contracts for the following six Minnesota State Colleges and Universities institutions expire on June 30: Bemidji State, MSU Mankato, MSUM, St. Cloud State, Southwest Minnesota State, and Winona State.

The selection process includes a vendor selection committee at each university, a MnSCU system office selection liaison, and the MnSCU system’s food service consultant.

Each MnSCU institution sent out requests for a proposal to a select number of qualified vendors that were due June 2015 and short list interviews were conducted Sept. 21 – 28 for four of them. The universities’ next step is visiting other locations where the vendors already have an existing account from Sept. 21 – Oct. 9.

“We have similar processes but we don’t have to make the same decision,” Director of Housing and Residential Life Heather Phillips said in regard to MnSCU having the same vendor shared between all universities. “There is a possibility, but because of confidentiality we haven’t shared which vendors we are interviewing with other universities.”

Specifically, each university’s vendor selection committee evaluated the proposals received for that institution, supported by the MnSCU system office liaison as well as MnSCU’s food service consultant. If MnSCU finds that a single vendor can provide for all six universities, that vendor will be awarded the contract. This decision will be made by representatives from all six vendor selection committees as well as the MnSCU system office liaisons. The intent of the proposal requests, however, is to best meet the needs of each individual university.

Bye-bye Sodexo?

The seven-year Sodexo campus dining contract, with the optional three-year addition making a total ten-year contract, is coming to an end June 30 for MSUM.

MSUM’s university vendor selection committee consists of Phillips, Director of Student Union and Activities Layne Anderson, Director of Study Abroad Janet Haak, Interim Associate Director of Wellness Charmaine English, Vice President for Finance & Administration Jean Hollaar, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Doug Peters, and three students to represent Student Senate, the CMU and resident halls.

Last year, the committee released a survey that was sent out to MSUM students, faculty and staff, asking a range of questions about dining services. The data was shared with potential vendors.

“There are program aspects, quality aspects and financial investment aspects,” Phillips said. “It’s not just a financial decision. It’s looking at what is the best vendor for our campus and our students.”

The selection process

When selecting vendors, the committee identified key priorities they want the chosen vendor to fulfill: Providing residential dining that fits the needs and preferences of all students, upgrading and refreshing the interior of Kise, redeveloping proposals for Union City and Subs and Sweets, offering catering support for student events, having a dedicated marketing team, and being a responsible financial investment.

But due to the 2015 Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, the committee isn’t allowed to release the names of interested vendors or how many proposals they’ve received.

“So by early spring, we will know what our plan is from a food service standpoint,” Anderson said. “There is a possibility that next summer some of our food service areas will be under construction.”

Financing reconstruction

Phillips clarified that the reconstruction of Subs and Sweets, Union City and Kise is separate from the 9 million dollar reconstruction project of the CMU.

“General renovation of the union is being payed for by the student union, but what has been identified as a key priority will be sub-financial support for the redevelopment of Subs and Sweets and Union City,” she said. “So it’s up to the [vendors] to identify what their vision is and what financial support they could provide. We are all experts in our own area and we are all going to have our own vision. So we are going to say our vision is this and here is the amount of money we are going to put toward accomplishing that.”

The final decision

MnSCU begins contract negotiations with selected vendors Nov. 30 and the transition begins Apr. 1.

“Sodexo has been a really good partner, but we need to make this a fair process and take all the proposals seriously,” Phillips said. “We really need to make decisions that are in the best interest of providing the greatest food services for campus.” 

Phillips clarified that there will be a transition no matter if Sodexo is chosen or not, adding that she can’t release whether Sodexo even submitted a proposal to renew their contract.

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