UNBC’s Food Up For Grabs, Residences to Lose Kitchens
by Tyson Kelsall, Culture Editor
The University of Northern British Columbia may be considered a relatively small institution, however, a seven to ten year contract with a permanent flow of customers rolling through your service area would still entice the big players in British Columbia’s catering industry. The time has come; UNBC’s current food service contract with Eurest is coming to an end in June 2014. Although it was originally supposed to end in March of 2013, they were awarded a short extension so that UNBC’s food service evaluation committee could come up with a solid Request for Proposals (RFP). To be clear, Eurest could still win the next contract if they put together the best proposal.
The RFP was put together by a group led by the Ancillary Services Department, including representatives from NUGSS, administration, staff, faculty, and UNBC’s Campus Food Strategy Group (CFSG). The RFP includes mechanisms that will force the winning proposal to source more sustainable and local foods, to have more vegan/vegetarian options, and provide better labeling when it comes to allergens. They will also be required to be open to constant communication and constructive criticism throughout their tenure. However, there are some big controversial changes for whoever ends up winning the next contract.
First and foremost, the cafeteria will be renovated to become a dining hall. This is very important to note, because it plays into UNBC’s plan for the residences. Ancillary Services, the department in charge of food, residences, and other non-academic operations, is planning on slowly turning many of the kitchens in the residences into extra bedrooms. While the exact rate and degree of conversion will largely be driven by demand, more than half the kitchens could be renovated over the next five years. For first year students who choose to live in residence this will mean having to buy a “meal plan.” The meal plan means a guaranteed economic base for the company who wins the contract, and for the students it means eating most of their food in the dining hall out of what the company decides to supply. This permanent revenue should allow the new company to invest in local foods, a feature of the contract suggested by Aaron LeBlanc, Director of Ancillary Services at UNBC. Although the infrastructure in Prince George is not well equipped to grow large amounts of food at this point, CFSG Representative Cam Bell hopes UNBC can build the market for it, which will be the first step to creating the supply. The second change is that the corner store will be shutting down and replaced with something similar to what is currently Deli Stackers, which will shut down as well. Thirdly, Tim Horton’s will shift over a bit and the better part of the Canfor Winter Garden will turn into a seating area. This could turn into the alternative, new openly accessible place for students to sit, as the dining hall would be operated on a pay-per-entrance system.
The proposals for anybody seeking to be UNBC’s next food provider had to be in by 25 November 2013. After this, the food service evaluation committee will choose a group of finalists who will be invited to make a presentation at UNBC on 7 January 2013, which is also a big opportunity for students to see what these companies have proposed, and offer their feedback. After that, the negotiating takes place directly between UNBC’s administration and the company. The downside to this is that students will be uninvolved in the completion process. However, the upside is efficiency, and the very fact that companies are being obligated to have face-to-face presentations is progressive in comparison to previous years where that step was non-existent. If you are interested, find the RFP online at http://www.unbc.ca/purchasing/tenders.