Concordia Chooses New Corporation to Serve Food On Campuses

Multinational Company Aramark Will Replace Previous Contractor Chartwells For Next Five Years

The downtown Grey Nuns residential cafeteria is one of the eight spaces new food provider Aramark will takeover for the fall semester, after successfully bidding to be Concordia University’s contractor for the next five years. Photo Elysia Marie-Campbell

Concordia University will have a new yet familiar food service model in its cafeterias and around campus now that Aramark, a multinational corporation, signed an exclusive five year contract following Chartwells’s 13-year reign.

Looking for change in a “tired” environment, the Philadelphia-based corporation beat out its competitors during the Request For Proposal process in March and May due to its environmentally sustainable practices, according to Sabrina Lavoie, an executive within the Office of the Vice President.

“This is the one that really cut it for us,” she said about Aramark’s proposal meeting the school’s criteria for sustainability.

Lavoie said their colleagues from McGill University, where Aramark is already the food provider, spoke of “remarkable improvements in sustainability” because of the company’s presence.

The student-run Concordia Food Coalition, a fee-levy group which attempted to coordinate a localized bid, for the contract says it’s worried about Aramark “greenwashing” its mandate to appease critics.

“I just don’t see it as any different than Chartwells,” said CFC coordinator Lauren Aghabozorgi.

“I just don’t see it as any different than Chartwells,” said CFC coordinator Lauren Aghabozorgi.

One of the RFP’s clauses asks for percentages of food to be procured locally and seasonally. Aghabozorgi and Paige Hilderman, another CFC member and one of The Hive Café Co-op coordinators, say they question what constitutes “locality” for the school’s administration.

The maximum distance for local procurement is 500 kilometers, according to the RFP, and Lavoie says most food will be sourced within a 150 kilometer radius.

The RFP process came under scrutiny as the CFC-coordinated consortium bid, led by the organization COOPSCO, pulled out last minute, previously telling The Link they weren’t “prepared enough” for a formal proposal.

Hilderman calls the “quick and crazy” process designed to not give smaller bidders a chance. She says reading through the entire document was difficult without an extensive legal team.

Concordia’s administration specifically opened the process to include consortiums—like the one involving COOPSCO—which Lavoie says is not “standard practice.” She adds that Concordia has been “super transparent” in the process, saying there was enough time and the option of an extension for all bidders.

The school has “specific needs” to serve its community, says Lavoie, and she suggests that COOPSCO or any other smaller consortium partner with a “bigger guy” as a supplier.

“Volume alone is the challenge,” University spokesperson Chris Mota told The Link. Concordia admits about 46,000 students a year and employs close to 7,000 people.

Aghabozorgi says the admin delayed the proceedings until “the last minute” and that information from the RFP should be more accessible to students. The school only wanted to provide a month’s time for bidders to hire a legal team, Hilderman argues.

According to a FAQ document on Concordia’s website, the original timeline had the RFP’s development and completion set by spring 2014, with the evaluation process of proposals occurring from summer 2014 to winter 2015.

As it did for Chartwells, Sysco will continue to act as a food supplier for Aramark, specifically with regard to proteins and non-produce/dairy products, according to Lavoie. In a story last year, former Concordia Food Services General Manager Newton Jegu Jr. attributed the lack of alternative foods for people with specific diets, such as gluten intolerance, to complications from the third party.

“It’s not affordable for them, so they don’t want to carry those products anymore,” Jegu previously told The Link about being at the “mercy” of Sysco’s business model.

In response to this issue, Lavoie says monthly meetings with residents have and will continue to provide the necessary feedback to make sure meals are satisfactory, but adds that student residences may not be for everyone.

“Maybe it’s better that somebody that is so allergic or so sick shouldn’t be in residence to start off with,” she said.

It appears Jegu, who offered The Link a full-access tour of the Grey Nuns facilities in response to complaints from a first-year student with gluten intolerance, will not be returning after suggestions that he was the one person they were in negotiations to keep. Lavoie could not confirm this but says now the search for a new food service director will be concluded and announced by the end of summer.

All other management staff will also be new, but the majority of the service staff are staying next year, Lavoie adds. In addition, they hired Daniel Poulin, a chef who has worked for Aramark for over 10 years, including at McGill, to create a new menu.

The 2015-16 rate for the meal plan is $3990 for two semesters, according to Lavoie. First-year students in residences must purchase the plan, which allows “unlimited” food during cafeteria open hours. She says Concordia’s pricing is “very low” for similar plans at other universities and uses McGill’s rate of $4400 as an example.

Aramark’s Complicated Past

The company, founded in 1959, is based in Philadelphia and rejoined the New York Stock Exchange for the third time under the symbol ARMK in 2013. On its website, it identifies as a “customer service business in food, facilities and uniforms.”

It was announced as one of Canada’s Greenest Employers in 2015 from a special feature in the Globe and Mail on Earth Day earlier this year.

Ethisphere Institute, a quarterly publication and evaluator of corporations, also named the company as one of 2015’s most ethical companies.

Its website advertises that it serves “thousands of clients” with a staff of approximately 270,000 employees in 21 countries.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize Winning journalist, wrote a column two years ago denouncing the company for lobbying politicians and aiming to profit off the American prison system. A corrections officer from the Burlington County Jail in New Jersey told him, albeit anonymously, that the prison food Aramark supplied was “not only substandard but often spoiled.”

Within a week’s span last summer, two Michigan prisons reported finding maggots near servicing areas, as one treated 30 inmates for food poisoning.

Two Ohio prisons dealt with the same maggot food contamination problem only days later. Students of Wayne State University, a school in Detroit, Michigan, responded to the scandals by petitioning on Facebook to remove Aramark as its food provider.

Despite these recent public setbacks, Aramark remains a profitable organization. The CEO and President since 2012, Eric Foss, received $6.8 million in salary and bonus plus $24.4 million as stock compensation in the 2014 fiscal year. Four other Aramark executives made an average of $1 million each in total compensation.

Time to Regroup and Plan

Despite the formalized new food provider, the competition for spaces between students, third parties and Aramark is still yet to be finalized. “Every square footage downtown is wanted,” Lavoie said.

The RFP outlined nine spaces downtown and at Loyola that were available, which Aramark now has. Aghabozorgi says availability of space for students is important. A space across from the bookstore in the LB building, as well as the Jugo Juice and Van Houtte spaces in the EV building, are either up for bidding or going through renovations by a new contractor, according to Aghabozorgi.

Lavoie quelled any rumour of the People’s Potato cafeteria—which offers free vegan lunches daily—on the seventh floor of Hall building downtown being taken, saying it’s “meant to stay.” The former downtown resisdential cafeteria, also on the seventh floor of the Hall building, is also a space many parties want, including the CFC.

Aramark’s contract lasts only five years, which is the perfect amount of time to “reenvision” a possible second CFC-coordinated bid, according to Aghabozorgi and Hilderman. Although there will be a turnover of students, Aghabozorgi says they have more experience now to impart onto the next group.

One of those students, Bibi de Medeiros, just completed her first year at Concordia. The CFC name-dropped her “food revolution” project, La Tuque, as one of the main projects they will support going forward.

La Tuque, which features a red cap as an homage to the French revolution, is what de Medeiros says is an initial branding to collect ideas and contributors to rethink food procurement at Concordia.

“Moving from a centralized to a more localized, self-sustainable food economy is a type of food revolution,” said de Medeiros about the project’s mandate.

She is currently applying for a special funding grant from the Concordia Student Union, after recommendations from meetings with multiple executives. The money will be used for “awareness marketing” to increase student input, de Medeiros adds.

“No one has the perfect idea out there,” she said about the project’s early stages. “The more people that want to get involved, the better.”

Aghabozorgi wants to change the corporate-favoured model of the bidding process for next time, possibly through a mandate voted by the student body. After speaking to a knowledgeable student insider within the community, she says that a referendum question during a CSU general or by-election could enact greater change.

“I’m interested in learning what we can mandate the administration to do,” she said.

A change in the RFP process may allow a student-led, localized consortium to become Concordia’s food procurer in the near future. “Why not,” Lavoie said.

Correction: In a previous iteration of this story, it stated that the RFP process solely took place in May. In actuality, it began in March and concluded in May. In addition, it misstated that Chartwells had a contract of 12 years instead of 13. Finally, Sabrina Lavoie’s is not the Vice President of Services but works within the VP office. The Link regrets the errors.