FRESH-branded food a hot seller

Paul Mayne // Western News

FRESH-approved foods have become hot sellers on campus. They not only identify calories, they highlight nutritional value.

If you brand it, they will eat it, says one Brescia University College researcher who has found highlighting nutritious food items across Western’s residences leads to increased sales – and, more importantly, healthier food purchases for students.

The FRESH-approved (Food Resources and Education for Student Health) menu items result from a program developed by graduate students enrolled in the Masters of Food and Nutritional Sciences program at Brescia, and is a partnership between Western’s Hospitality Services and Brescia.

The program uses point-of-purchase labels – the FRESH logo or a stylized purple eggplant with a green checkmark – to identify nutritious and healthy food

What makes an item FRESH-worthy goes beyond the standard calorie-counting students might be used to, and delves into whether a food has healthy nutrients and healthy ingredients.

This study assessed the comparative strength of sales between FRESH-approved items and non-FRESH products.

Led by Jamie Seabrook, a professor at Brescia’s School of Food & Nutritional Sciences, the study found 67 per cent of consumers consider Point-of-purchase (POP) labels when making food choices.

“POP labels are not new, but what we’ve done at Western is quite new,” he said. “Because we had evidence that university students for the most part have poor dietary habits, low fruit and veggie intake and, lack of food skills, we implanted this FRESH POP labelling promo to help try and identify healthier options. It gets a logo, or checkmark, so students can see it is a healthier choice.”

A pre-FRESH survey showed students in residence said it was a challenge for them to identify which food choices were healthiest.

“What if we make it obvious for them?” said Seabrook. “That led us to go in this direction.”

Brescia Nutrition and Dieteticsstudent Holly Redick, said she got involved with FRESH because she wanted to work with a group that made a positive impact on the Western community.

“What I appreciate about this group is it focuses on teaching food literacy skills to students and has created initiatives to increase healthy habits,” said Redick, this year’s FRESH president. “FRESH has created many great programs, including FRESH ED, which involves peer educators teaching other Western students cooking skills and nutrition information. It has allowed me to share my passion for nutrition with my peers and hopefully teach students around me the skills and habits they will use in the future.”

Students also received a FRESH Reward Card, which provides them with one free fruit or milk after nine purchases.

A bonus to their choices: across the board, from side dishes to entrées, the nutritious FRESH-labelled food was less expensive.

“What we found was the prices of the FRESH approved menu items were actually significantly lower, which was interesting, because everything you hear in the media is it costs a lot to eat healthy. At least here, they’re lower,” said Seabrook.

So too is Anne Zok, nutritional manager at Western, who lauded the longstanding relationship between Hospitality Services and Brescia University College, now going on 20 years.

“I see it as a win-win-win situation,” said Zok, adding Hospitality Services has the good fortune to draw on the expertise of FRESH Brescia faculty advisors, a 10-person executive and almost 40 peer educators and Nutrition students involved in FRESH.

“In a nutshell, there is a synergistic effect that happens when groups partner on initiatives with similar goals and objectives. We are stronger as a team than we would be individually and we are capitalizing on very valuable resource – our students.

“It seems every year FRESH gains more traction and yes, it is very rewarding to see. Many students at Western are out on their own for the first time and it’s rewarding to know that we can help them navigate their food environment.  Making the ‘healthy choice’ the ‘easy choice’ helps to nudge students toward a healthier diet.”

Redick agreed: “It is great to see the evidence these initiatives are working, and that FRESH is moving towards its goal of making Western the healthiest campus in Canada.”