College and University | Food Trends

Food Trends 2024: The Fastest-Growing Flavors in College Dining

Jun 20, 2024

 Food Trends 2024: The Fastest-Growing Flavors in College Dining

While they love their familiar favorites, Gens Z diners are also known for their adventurous palates. According to a recent survey, half of Gen Z respondents wanted more meals with unique flavors or different cuisines. Moreover, 32% love trying new types of cuisines and foods.1

For menu planners at colleges and universities, this data underscores the need to incorporate unique and global flavors. But it’s a big world out there. Which flavors are trending on campuses in 2024?

Let’s start with the old favorites in college dining

A review of college and university menus by Datassential found the following flavors to have the highest penetration. In other words, these are staples on higher-education menus. The following chart ranks them by menu penetration and reveals the direction and magnitude of their growth.

2881-CU blog-charts-1

Over the last 12 months, chipotle and jalapeño pepper showed the strongest growth among campus staples, demonstrating the popularity of Mexican cuisine and bold flavors. Meanwhile, Dill grew the most over the last four years, illustrating the resurgence of this long-time favorite.

Here are some products we recommend to help you match these trends:

The flavors just starting to gain traction in dining halls

The fastest-growing flavors in college and university dining have relatively low menu penetration now but are important to watch as they’re trending upward quickly. Many are international flavors (Bang Bang, Ras el Hanout, Sesame Ginger), but many aren’t (Homemade Sauce, White Gravy, Nacho Cheese). What this list suggests is a taste for authentic and bold flavors.

2881-CU blog-charts-2

Here are some descriptions of the lesser-known flavors:

Ras el Hanout: A complex and aromatic spice blend that originates from North Africa, particularly Morocco. The name "Ras el Hanout" translates to "head of the shop" in Arabic, implying that it is the best spice blend a seller has to offer. This blend is a staple in Moroccan cuisine and is used to season a wide variety of dishes, including tagines, couscous, meat, and vegetable stews.

Bang Bang: A popular creamy, spicy, and slightly sweet sauce often used in American cuisine. It is commonly associated with seafood dishes, particularly Bang Bang Shrimp, which is a popular appetizer in many restaurants. The sauce typically consists of mayonnaise, sweet chili sauce, hot sauce, honey or sugar.

Chili Oil: A versatile condiment made by infusing oil with chili peppers and other flavorful ingredients. It's commonly used in Asian cuisines, particularly Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, to add heat and depth to various dishes.

In additional, Datassential found that college students over-index for certain flavors compared to other kinds of diners:

2881-CU blog-charts-3

The platforms on the rise at colleges and universities

Beyond flavors, there’s also the question of which shapes these flavors will take, i.e. platforms like bowls, burritos, etc. Here’s what’s trending among students now:

2881-CU blog-charts-4

For collegiate foodservice, it’s all about flavor in 2024

The flavors shaping college and university foodservice reflect a broader cultural shift towards diversity, health, and innovation. From global cuisines to plant-based alternatives, comfort foods with a twist, and health-conscious choices, today's students have more options than ever before. As campuses continue to embrace these trends, the dining experience will only become more exciting, inclusive, and attuned to the tastes of a new generation.

1 Keys to food, beverage product success for Gen Z
2 Datassential, MenuTrends, April 2024
3 Datassential, ReportPro College & University Segment Guide, 2023