Sodexo will replace ARAMARK as the food service provider for the campus-based Vermont State Colleges in a 5-year, $5 million per year contract that will begin serving students next semester.
According to VSC Director of Community Relations and Public Policy Daniel Smith, the VSC council of presidents voted unanimously to switch to Sodexo.
The council that collaborated to make the final decision for the contract included VSC Chancellor Timothy Donovan, Chief Financial Officer Thomas Robbins, Smith, and the presidents of Johnson, Lyndon, Castleton, and Vermont Tech.
The vote was held after months of consideration as a 16-person committee including deans of administration and student government representatives from Johnson, Lyndon, Castleton and Vermont Tech narrowed the field of potential food service companies down to Sodexo and ARAMARK.
Each company gave a presentation to the committee outlining the improvements that it would introduce to the current food service. The presentations both incorporated requirements established in the committee’s RFP, or request for proposal.
JSC’s Dean of Administration Sharron Scott said that the provisions for Johnson included the addition of a deli to the Mountaintop Market and made-to-order food at Late Night.
The RFP also requested that the dining halls provide meals to-go, as well as incorporate as many local products as possible.
“The plan is to shoot for at least 40 percent local products where we can,” said Scott. “ARAMARK has made great strides in the last few years in trying to make sure that we’re eating local products. We are about 25 to 30 percent local.”
Robbins agreed that the VSC have been collaborating with ARAMARK to increase the amount of locally obtained produce. “We have really been working with ARAMARK to buy local, and an important part of this contract is going to be buying local foods first,” he said.
One important resource for the VSC is the Vermont Technical College’s farming program. Maple syrup produced by VTC has already been incorporated into the dining program for the colleges. “Buy the local food first,” said Robbins. “If not [from] the college buy close to the college, in the local town, and then within Vermont and then locally outside of Vermont.”
While Sodexo plans to get as much produce locally as it can, it is not prepared to sacrifice the quality. According to Robbins, VTC doesn’t have quality control inspections that meet Sodexo’s standards. “That safety has to be ensured no matter where the produce comes from,” he said.
One of the details being worked out in the contract is that Sodexo will provide VTC with an inspector to allow it to increase the level of produce it can provide to the VSC.
Sodexo’s proposal provided more variety for the dining program than ARAMARK’s, according to Robbins. While ARAMARK proposed having outside barbeques a few times a semester, Sodexo proposed 75 dining activities for all of the colleges to provide variety to students’ meals.
The decision wasn’t easy to make, according to JSC President Barbara Murphy. “This was a tight race,” she said. “The finalists were proposing very strong programs. I had to go with the budget decisions and try to separate that from my fondness for individual leaders in the food service on [our]campus.”
ARAMARK has been the food service provider for the VSC for the last 27 years, according to Director of food service Tadd Stone. Most of the 45 food service employees, those offered hourly wages, will have the opportunity to continue their current jobs with the new company.
Sodexo Director of Business Development Melanie Sweeney emphasized the corporation’s commitment to ensuring a smooth transition for the hourly employees: “We’ll have no disruption in their benefits, we’ll make sure that we understand what their current salary levels are,” said Sweeney. “Our commitment is making sure that the hourly employees feel as comfortable and as excited about this opportunity as we are.”
Salaried ARAMARK employees, however, cannot change their contracts to another company. Both Stone and Assistant Food Service Director James Consentino will be leaving along with ARAMARK.
Consentino said he plans to stay in Vermont, after having moved once to stay with ARAMARK. He praised the company’s treatment of him, saying: “ARAMARK has been absolutely great to me. And so has the college, to allow me to make this my home for the past eight and a half years has been great.” He hopes to be able to continue working with ARAMARK in the future
Stone also intends to continue working with ARAMARK. “ I know I’m going to stay with ARAMARK, it’s a great company,” said Stone. “The company will come to me and offer to transfer me into another account. I could move to someplace as far away as California. Or I could move as close as New York or Maine. There are no other accounts for ARAMARK in Vermont.”
Both Consentino and Stone expressed appreciation for the welcoming environment at Johnson. “We feel like we’ve made a very strong connection with everybody here,” said Consentino.
Murphy expressed her regret over Stone’s and Consentino’s departures, explaining that she ultimately had to make her decision to support Sodexo for the good of the VSC. “As a college president in this system you do wear two hats,” said Murphy. “I campaign like crazy for our college in my meetings, but I also know I am a colleague president and sometimes have to compromise in the best interest of the system. The hardest part of this is that James and Tadd are wonderful. They have done a brilliant job at Johnson State. It will be a huge personal loss to have them leave.”
According to its website, Sodexo has 6,000 clients in the United States, Canada and Mexico and 125,000 employees in North America.
Providing services at 700 facilities, the company serves over 9.3 million meals daily.
Annual revenues of the company were $8 billion in 2010, the latest available figures.
Other Vermont colleges that have partnered with Sodexo include Norwich University, UVM, Champlain College, St. Michael’s College, and Southern Vermont College.