Why one university opened a grocery store on campus

The University of South Florida (USF) has partnered with the Publix grocery chain to open a store on campus.

USF's partnership with Publix brings employment and research opportunities to campus, according to the university. Of the store's 140-plus associates, more than 50 attend USF. The grocery will also host at least two on-campus job fairs per year.

Grocery stores aren’t a common sight on college campuses. USF is the first university to integrate a Publix grocery store into a student housing village, reports Sara DiNatale for Tampa Bay Times. The store is just a few hundred feet away from residence halls, dining, and fitness facilities. USF students can buy groceries, prepared foods, school supplies, and USF-branded t-shirts from the Publix.

The store is part of the university's push to create "a vibrant living-learning environment that fully supports the needs of our students both inside and outside the classroom," USF President Judy Genshaft said in a statement.

The university also wanted to make it easier for students without a car to retrieve groceries without having to walk or bike with several bags through busy intersections, says USF Chief Operating Officer John Long. The store also has a bus stop and 150 public parking spots for students who live off-campus, adds DiNatale.

Grocery stores are one of the many creative ways institutions are providing students with healthy and affordable food options, says Hailey Badger, an EAB analyst who researches food and housing insecurity.

On-campus grocery stores might be particularly helpful for low-income and food-insecure students who may not have the means to travel to a store or buy prepared food from campus. About 7% of two-year college students and 5% of four-year college students said they have skipped eating for an entire day because they could not afford to, according to one study from the University of Wisconsin.

Some on-campus grocery stores even accept food stamps. Badger points to Oregon State University's on-campus grocery store which began accepting federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in 2016. Oregon State is one of the only schools in the country to accept SNAP on campus, she adds.

Building a grocery store on campus is a significant investment, but there are easier and faster ways to connect students with support, says Badger. Some institutions connect students with surplus campus resources—like leftover campus catering.

Related: Make it easy to refer food-insecure students

Like USF, other universities have opened big-box retail locations on campus, writes Hallie Busta for Education Dive.

Target, for example, launched a TargetExpress in Minneapolis in 2014 to cater to student shoppers. The store was "one of the only places near [the University of Minnesota] campus to buy produce, dairy and meat," the Minneapolis Star-Tribune wrote two years after the store's launch.

Target said in a blog post that it plans to open 10 such stores on or near college campuses this year and 100 more by 2020. The University of California's Berkeley and Irvine campuses, Brigham Young University, the University of Chicago, and Pennsylvania State University already have a TargetExpress on campus.

Food is the most in-demand good at these Express stores, especially grab-and-go items like bananas, sandwich bread, and Greek yogurt, according to Target (Busta, Education Dive, 12/7; DiNatale, Tampa Bay Times, 12/6)

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