A savory blend of imagination, culinary prowess, and disruptive technology is helping foodservice expert Fresh Ideas Food Management take student dining services into a new era.
For Fresh Ideas Management, redefining college foodservice entails much more than offering dish-of-the-moment menu options: by blending a fierce focus on customer experience with leading-edge technology, the Columbia, Missouri foodservice firm is transforming the way colleges deliver nutrition and service.
“No one on campus gets to know the students more than dining services. We see them more than anyone else on campus, so we really get to know them,” said Fresh Ideas COO Kris Lensmeyer.
That inside knowledge led to the development of a proprietary point-of-sale (POS) system that is poised to impact the student experience beyond dining.
Flexibility Forges a New Path
“We found that the existing POS systems were very expensive and inflexible; we couldn’t customize them to get what we needed done,” Lensmeyer shared.
Those limitations led foodservice expert Fresh Ideas to collaborate with a Canadian tech firm, Lucova, to develop a proprietary POS system and integrated app. The system uses Bluetooth technology to give the campus dining hall and retail food operations a deeper connection with their customers while providing a robust, nimble platform for future technological innovation.
Lensmeyer illustrated the difference between the FreshX app and popular coffee ordering systems.
“Those systems just tell the workers what’s been ordered. They don’t tell you anything about the customer you’re about to serve. FreshX allows cashiers at the dining halls and retail areas to know who is visiting the dining area before they actually come through the door. This allows for a personalized customer experience.”
Users can check dining dollar balances or communicate feedback directly to the chef, the dietitian, and even to the Fresh Ideas CEO. Mobile ordering lets busy students skip lines at mealtimes, and the system’s “Pay With A Selfie” cashless payment feature enhances a typical student identification security component with personalized experience.
“Now we can ask students if they want their regular meal because we have that information. It’s just one way we’re able to enhance customer service in a way that would be impossible without technology,” she noted.
“We are on the leading edge of engagement. We brought this patented technology into the U.S., we’re the first ones in this country to use it, and we’re very proud of it.”
The system is attracting interest throughout the industry, particularly from the competition.
“Everyone is struggling with this, asking, ‘How do we engage students?’” Lensmeyer said.
Designed to easily integrate with other parts of the student experience, the app has great potential for becoming valuable beyond the dining room, especially as an aid for student retention and recruitment.
One school offers a “swipe and swag” program: students come to events and earn points for school swag every time they check in to the event using the mobile app.
“By having more features, students will want to use the app more,” she theorized. “It’s nice to have a flexible platform so we can be nimble and continue to be on the cutting edge as student demands change over time.”
More Than FoodserviceBecause feedback and engagement are central to the Fresh Ideas approach, no two POS or FreshX systems are set up the same. The technology is customized for every school, as are the menus.
Fresh Ideas eschews set menus in favor of tailoring the food options for individual student populations. The taste profiles and nutritional values reflect the composition of the student body.
One key initiative, Be Green, Be Healthy, Be Bold, “encourages students to feed their minds and fuel their bodies with an integrated approach to wellness. The program provides educational materials for students on a variety of topics including sustainability, flu prevention, heart health, fitness, healthy eating, food waste, food origin, and general nutrition.”
In an effort to make food fun and mobile, the firm created a flexible food truck designed to bring fresh and diverse food to community events.
“We wanted to showcase our culinary expertise and also have fun,” said Lensmeyer. “It’s flexible enough to run anything from barbeque pork and homemade chips to street tacos, cotton candy, and even warm cookies.”
The firm’s annual Copper Pot culinary competition gives campus culinarians and chefs a chance to display their skills in creating everything from hearty dishes to amuse-bouche. The trophy—a copper pot, of course—travels from school to school.
On one campus, a freight container vertical farming operation enables the growth of diverse lettuces, microgreens, and herbs.
“This gives us an opportunity to partner with students and to be part of the community,” Lensmeyer said. Providing authentic ethnic cuisine delights palates and helps strengthen the customer bond even more.
“Foodservice is more than just food,” she added. “It’s about creating memorable experiences and building community.”
A strong social media presence extends the company’s reach and relevance and deepens the connections made through the dining experience.
“We believe that Fresh Ideas, through engagement and fresh food, really makes a difference in students’ lives.”
Fresh Ideas provides excellence in dining services.
The company is committed to promoting sustainable practices through its culinary craft and professional accountability by creating and advancing programs which strive to balance social equity, environmental health, and economic prosperity.