California Lutheran University students can no longer use meal plans to purchase items such as paninis, chips, snack boxes and Evolution brand juices at the on-campus Starbucks.
Formerly, students had a meal equivalency of $6 that could be used to purchase any food or drink item available in Starbucks and other locations like Jamba Juice. Since July, students have only been allowed to use this meal equivalency on drinks made by the baristas and pastries sold from behind the counter at Starbucks.
Clinton Oie, director of auxiliaries at Cal Lutheran who acts as a liaison between the university and Sodexo, said the policy actually did not change, but is simply now being enforced.
The contract between Sodexo and Cal Lutheran states, “Meal equivalencies in Starbucks shall be limited to products produced by Sodexo at the premises.”
Oie said “produced at the premises” is defined as being prepared by the workers on site.
Patricia Yantzer, the general manager for Sodexo at Cal Lutheran, said they realized during the middle of the last school year that the policy was not being followed. She said Sodexo began enforcing the policy in July and that this semester clarifications have been made.
“I assume the contract is being followed until I hear otherwise,” said Jason Adams, the district manager for Sodexo.
Adams said any pre-packaged retail not included on the meal plan at Starbucks is “beyond what they can offer.” He said Starbucks is a “different animal” compared to maintaining locations such as the Ullman Commons, and has standards the university must follow, such as paying royalties to the company whenever people purchase items. He said production costs are also higher due to freight, packaging, payment of employees and other factors.
Adams said these additional managing costs for places like Starbucks keeps the meal equivalency as low as only $6. He said they could continue offering the extra items, but the meal equivalency might then only be $3, or the cost of meal plans overall could rise.
On the issue of cost, Oie said there is also lost inventory when the additional packaged items like paninis and salads go unused and expire. When asked if there could be more lost inventory because students on meal plans would likely not purchase these items, Oie said in an email interview that the retail manager places orders based on trends.
When Starbucks was added as a campus dining option and the contract was formed, Adams said Sodexo worked with the university to find a middle ground without significantly changing student cost. He said food needs to cost the university, Sodexo and students the same amount, while trying to “preserve the student’s ability to choose.”
“Everything must be paid for somewhere,” Adams said.
He said what is purchased at Starbucks and other locations outside the dining hall should qualify as an “actual meal,” while candy and other items do not, particularly when one considers that financial aid, scholarships and other funds coming from outside areas and taxpayers can be covering that students’ food.
Oie said there is still some confusion amongst students and workers regarding what a meal equivalency can be used to purchase. As of 10 a.m. Sept. 15, a sign on the window of the pastry counter said meal plans can only be used for breakfast pastries and drinks. Oie, upon seeing the sign, said students are not simply limited to breakfast food since they can still buy cookies, brisket sandwiches and other items prepared behind the counter. Students are no longer able to purchase snack boxes or salads, and students with certain dietary restrictions are currently left with few alternatives.
Yantzer, Adams and Oie all said in a group interview that being able to have the cash register lock when people try to use a meal swipe to purchase unqualified items might help create a uniform system, alongside finding the right verbiage for the sign. However, they said all signs must be approved by Starbucks.
*Editor’s Note: All quotes from individuals are partial. Staff writer was unable to record interviews due to Sodexo company policy.