Colleagues visit Florida to explore plant based university catering

Members of the study tour group outside The Hub

Last month, David McKown, Head of Training and Quality for our Accommodation and Commercial Services (ACS) and Dawn Shooter, Unicus Retail Manager, headed out to Florida on on a study tour. The purpose of the trip was to get a first-hand look at market-leading HE food operations in Florida along with an in-depth insight into plant-based food concepts, with the aim of improving the vegan and vegetarian catering on campus.

One of the highlights was a visit to the University of South Florida (USF). Across the main campus in Tampa there are currently 25 food outlets with more in the pipeline. One of these is The Hub, a large dining facility that offers a huge range of food throughout the day including American, Chinese, Thai, Mongolian BBQ, Indian as well as a variety of vegan and gluten free choices.

For me, it was a great opportunity to learn how our students see catering and their food as a critical part of residential life. It will help us to see how we can build more food related events into our student offer here at Sheffield.

David mckown, ACS HEAD OF TRAINING and QUALITY


The USF makes good use of smart technology. There is an app available that allows food and drink to be ordered on the go for in-store pick up across all of the outlets. The university’s app integrates with My Fitness Pal in order to help students track their nutritional intake. All nutritional information for the outlets is also available for viewing on the university website.

There is a prominent vegetarian and vegan offer across campus, with plans to offer a menu in the next five years that will be a staggering 75% plant based. Continuing the trend of health and fitness across campus there are two nutritionists available offering healthy recipes and samples. Students can also book free 1-on-1 consultations, highlighting just how important being healthy is to the student population. Similarly to our University, USF is also committed to working with local suppliers.

David and Dawn joined a group of 13 representatives from higher education institutions across the UK. The study tour was organised by University Hospitality Seminars Ltd., a company which provides bespoke training for the UK university commercial sector, and tour partners Welbilt, a global manufacturing and catering based solutions company.

Dawn Shooter said: “This trip was amazing, lots of lovely food and great company. I was looking forward to the second half of the week as we were eating plant based foods, and as we know vegan is becoming more popular. The cheese they make from cashew nuts tasted great.

Members of the group enjoying food on the beach

"The best day was the first full day there. We took a boat trip to a small island in the Gulf of Mexico where we had a Catch it, Prep it, Cook it experience. We all caught at least one fish, unfortunately none were fit to cook! Luckily we had brought some along just in case. Our evening ended eating fresh fish with a glass of wine whilst watching the sun go down before our journey back to dry land. Bliss!

“I’m looking forward to bringing what I’ve learnt back to The University of Sheffield, we can introduce some fresh and new ideas to our campus focused on the plant based offering that is thriving at USF.”

David McKown said: “For me, it was a great opportunity to learn how our students see catering and their food as a critical part of residential life. It will help us to see how we can build more food related events into our student offer here at Sheffield. What was quite eye opening was just how rapid the growth of plant based diets is, it brought into focus our need to prepare, develop and be ready.

“At a more personal level, being a Director of University Hospitality Seminars, this was a big chance to help develop international relationships and build connections for The University of Sheffield.”