When CUFoods at Cardiff University conducted a survey among staff and students to understand their future expectations, there was a strong preference for an onsite campus café, which was not only vegetarian and vegan, but also supported a healthy sustainable diet. Annabel Hurst, Head of Catering, says “Part of our ethos is to listen to our customers and be willing and able to change. We also want to create inspiring spaces for customers to eat, drink, meet, socialise and study, as well as providing consistent value for money.”

As a result of the survey and analysing food habit trends for young people, the decision was made to create a new venue and produce more food-to-go items in-house. The main restaurant, which had consistently operated at a financial loss, was refurbished into Green Shoots, and is now a thriving vegetarian and vegan café. The space has become a community environment, “a venue where you will witness students studying alongside staff, students meeting or socialising alongside visitors and classes having a lecture over coffee,” says Annabel. “Since we opened two years ago, we’ve received consistent positive feedback.”

In addition, Green Shoots hosts a monthly Supper Club, which started in 2022. Annabel says, “It was an opportunity to offer a community event for students, many of whom had been impacted by Covid restrictions.” Students can apply for a ticket for a free three course meal and drinks, provided by suppliers and partners. “It normally sells out within minutes,” says Annabel.
“The theme of the talks is always around sustainability, nutrition and health. We are also planning to introduce free cookery classes for students.”

CUFoods produces food-to-go items in-house such as freshly filled rolls, paninis and hot boxes, which have been well received by their customers. Annabel explains, “This has enabled us to control the selling price to our customers and means we can remain competitive with meal deals which are worked around our in-house products.”

Her advice to other university caterers wanting to introduce a similar service is to make sure you have sourced a reliable product, “as consistency is key to build the demand for the product. We offer food-to-go items throughout the day from 10am, which moves some of our sales from peak times to other parts of the day, increasing overall footfall.”

As part of CUFoods’ aim to introduce sustainable practices, a Sustainability Farmers Market takes place every term outside Green Shoots on a car park the university was closing. “We turned it into a car park garden. The area is surrounded by plants filled with fruit trees, herbs and vegetables – the produce used in Green Shoots’ menu,” says Annabel. “We’ve collected seeds from the fruit and vegetable plants which will be used to grow next year’s produce. A potting shed has now been installed where seedlings will be nurtured.”

According to Annabel, knowing your customers is key. “Every hospitality operation is different, so this is vital. Listen to your team as they hear and see first-hand what customers want. Don’t be afraid to try something new. It may not work but you learn from that experience and can turn it into a success.”