Fully Alive: A Conversation with Mark Daniels on the Gazebo Health Initiative
General Manager, Andrews University Dining Services
Throughout the past few years, Americans have been pressed more and more to make healthier food decisions. We all know the benefits of a healthier diet and here at Andrews University we would like to have healthy options as well. The temptation is always to just get something quick and easy and a lot of the time that isn’t the healthiest option. Last school year, there were a lot of complaints about how much of the food at the Gazebo was unhealthy. In response to those complaints, management of the Gazebo have decided to make some changes this year. I sat down with Mark Daniels, general manager of Andrews University Dining Services, to discuss the Gazebo Health Initiative.
What sparked these changes?
There are two reasons. First, the FDA passed a law in 2014 giving a deadline to businesses in the foodservice industry that you have to provide basic nutritional information on items that are sold 60 or more times in a year; that would apply to pretty much everything in the Gazebo. In terms of packaged goods we’re good because people who make snack bars and chips put nutritional information on them. But when it comes to things like the line, the food we make from order to order, we’re looking at what we’re making and doing research on what those things contain in terms of calories and fat, sodium, etc. Bon Appetit has put a process into place for us that allows us to really look hard at our menus and we have made a commitment to provide one third of our line menu items as “healthy”; and not just calling them healthy but actually making them healthy for you—low fat, low calories, a good source of protein, plant-based. But that is a driver for us, both in the Gazebo and upstairs.
Second, President Luxton and Dominique Wakefield have this new mission, Fully Alive, which is striving to make Andrews University the healthiest university in the country. That’s a tall order from a food perspective. It’s a huge order for us because kids like candy bars! They want a Pepsi and a bag of Lay's potato chips. They are tasty and they’re easy to eat. So late last year we began this conversation with them and having internal conversations between the Executive Chef, myself, and Chef Jason about what do we do in response to that. We don’t want people to eat healthy by force; people eat healthy because you educate people about eating healthy by giving them that option in addition to their other pre-existing options. What you're seeing happen on the retail side is that we can put out some better options and people will look at them and say, “Oh I never heard of dry soda before...let me try it” and when they do they realize that it’s good and instead of having high fructose corn syrup it has pure cane sugar. So it’s those kind of choices that we’re making intentionally to give people a better option.
How did you choose the new items to put on the menu?
OK, let’s break it again into two pieces. On the line and the grill side, the made-to-order side, we are still in the process of working on those changes. Now some of the changes that you’ve seen are maybe source-driven. If I can’t get an ingredient I can’t make that item, so I’ve got to switch what I’m making or I am going to change to an item I can make. The best answer is on the grill, and the made-to-order side we are still evolving. It will evolve for probably the next 60 to 90 days, so the new menu won’t be available until January.
Can you tell me what items are going to be added or changed?
You’re gonna see similar things; you’re still going to see salad options, sub (sandwich) options, you’re still getting smoothie options, burrito options and a hot sandwich option. Instead of seeing two burgers we have one and we offer something else along with it that's good for you and it's tasty. Good food doesn't have to be nasty, right? Even indulgent food can be nasty sometimes so it's a matter of perspective. We want to have a balance; one-third healthy, two-thirds not. That seems reasonable to me.
We sourced a completely different supplier, it’s a company called United Natural Foods. They travel all over the country and they are a part of Bon Appetit’s operations. They give us a lot of options that are really healthy.
Considering the feedback and sales you’ve experienced so far, how do you think the students are liking the changes?
Feedback is both verbal and nonverbal. It’s behavioral and conversational. In terms of conversational feedback it has been pretty positive feedback. But behavior is almost more important. People can say one thing and then do another. So there are about the same number of students on the meal plan this semester than there were last semester and sales are (about) the same. So I’m not losing ground by making these changes. I’m where I expect to be. I didn’t expect to see like this huge spike in participation because there haven’t been any more students and you guys have to budget your meal plan to make it through the semester. If I had seen a sharp decline or a shift from down to up that would have been an indication to me that we had taken a wrong turn. We are pretty even with last year and for a week a few hundred dollars difference up or down is just not that much. So both in conversation and behavior are telling me that the students are liking the changes we are making.
If students would like to contact Mark Daniels or Andrews University Dining Services to voice their opinions, comment cards available in the cafeteria. Each day, these cards are collected and carefully considered by Dining Services staff.