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Food price discrepancy irks students

By Lauren Oliver, For The Miami Student

Students express concern over lack of dining hall price transparency. Without realizing it, customers are paying different prices for similar products around campus. A burrito at Serrano's in Armstrong Student Center is almost $2 dollars more than a burrito at Bell Tower, and students are also paying 10 cents extra for chips and salsa at Armstrong.

Nancy Heidtman, Senior Director for Dining and Culinary Support Services, said that the increase in pricing is due to the different protein portion sizes at each location.

Bell Tower offers a 2 oz. portion size, whereas Serrano's offers a 3 oz. portion size. As for the chips and salsa, Serrano's provides homemade, hand-cut and deep-fried tortilla chips, versus Bell Tower, which serves commercial chips supplied by Husman's.

However, junior Miles Senior, does not agree with this reasoning.

"As much as we pay to come to this university, I don't think it's fair for them to nickel and dime us on food options, especially when they appear to be so similar," he said. "The chips I can understand, but I've never been able to tell that the portion size varies from dining establishments."

Students are also curious about the difference between a burger from Campus Grill at Bell Tower versus one from Encounter at Maplestreet Station. According to Jon Brubacher, Director of Procurement and Food purchases, they are entirely different burgers.

"The burger meat at Encounter is locally raised, about six miles away at Reserve Run Farms," he said. "It's all natural [and] humanely raised beef."

Brubacher said it's not to take away from the quality of the other burgers, as they're still a great product, but they are able to buy it in bulk quantities. Junior Maddie Hudak was unaware of the price discrepancy, and expressed concern about the lack of visibility.

"I feel left in the dark, and now I'm wondering what else we're being charged extra for," she said. "That's something that needs to be advertised, and somehow we should know that's going on. I feel I'm missing opportunities to save money, because I am just a college student."

Heidtman acknowledged the university could, in fact, do a better job with advertising and marketing, and there are plans to do so in the future.However, Brubacher said this is not the first time a differential in pricing for the same item has occurred, but rather for different reasons.

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"Years ago it happened more frequently," he said. "If there was a new product in a convenience store, we did find that each individual location would use a different point of sale system."

Now, to ensure that all prices for the same product are identical, the university has adopted an entirely new system.

"If MacCracken enters a new flavor of juice, then it's going to scan the same at Scoreboard and everywhere else," Brubacher said.

Heidtman and Brubacher are also aware of the concerns that students have about an increase in food pricing. They recognize many students budget their meal plan, so they try to eliminate up-charging as much as possible.

In fact, the university has sought out different ways in which to be economically smart so that students are not affected.

"Miami is a part of a Group Purchasing Organization called Provista that allows us to buy food products far under the market price," Brubacher said.

If the market price increases, the university is still able to pay the same price no matter what. They also purchase food products in very large amounts so they last throughout the entire school year.

However, it is noticeable that many items at MacCracken or other convenient stores across campus are priced much higher than at chain stores such as Kroger.

"Due to the fact that our sales and most of other convenience stores are only a small fraction of what a chain [like] Kroger or WalMart would have, we pay a higher price through a convenience store supplier, then what a chain such as Kroger would pay for most items," Brubacher said.

Brubacher points out that there are products being sold at the convenience stores at the same price as other chain stores.

"[Many] of the Frito Lay products, and most of our beverages are priced competitively with grocery stores," he said.

As for whether prices will vary or increase, Heidtman said it is a last resort, as they have the students' best interest in mind.

"We work hard to keep meal plan fees affordable, while also maintaining a level of quality and service that Miami students deserve," she said. "College is expensive, and [students] need to be well-nourished and well-fed. There's a direct correlation between your academic performance and nutrition."