By Jonathan Spicer
Ryerson has cut many of its full-time cafeteria workers and switched over to less-expensive food products, yet students continue to be faced with bloated prices for meals. And all the while, food services revenues bubble over.
In an Aramark ad that ran in the Nov. 2000 MacLean’s magazine, John Corallo, Ryerson’s director of ancillary services, said “Since partnering with [Ryerson’s food provider] Aramark, we’ve increased food service revenue by 23%.”
But that revenue has never been transferred back to students, who continue to pay increased prices for meals that many argue have decreased in quality.
“It amazes me how they can continue to lower the quality and raise the price,” said Neil Thomlinson, an instructor in the politics department and member of the Ryerson Faculty Association. “What are they doing selling Cambell’s industrialized food product posing as soup, Stouffer’s pre-packaged meals for what used to be a homemade meal, and charging more for those things than what is comparable in any kind of market?”
Fruits and cookies, which each increased 26 cents from last year, are some of the examples of Aramark-provided food that many students were surprised to find increasing in price, despite the university’s recent savings.
“I’m angry,” said Olusola Adebajo, a third-year nursing student. “But I find it’s ridiculous more than anything because you’d think that prices inside the school would accommodate the school, and there would be some sort of health and wellness initiative that would subsidize the cafeteria so that students could eat healthily.”
Corallo argues the challenge for Ryerson’s food services is to employ cafeteria workers and satisfy the contract with Aramark, while still making a profit. Aramark manages and provides the food to the cafeterias in Jorgenson and Pitman Halls, as well as the Coffee Time outlets around campus.
But to students who sigh as they gaze at cafeteria price tags, the idea that Ryerson is pulling a profit from their eating habits is too much to stomach.
“The prices are too high, it’s cheaper on the street,” Tonia Ward, a fourth-year ITM student, said before biting into a pita from Pita Pit. “The school should monitor prices, considering the high tuition.”
Cerise Caspersz, who didn’t have time to make it out to Gerrard Street for lunch, is concerned that students are captive to the prices and variety of food offered at Ryerson.
“Because I was hungry now, and we don’t have enough time to run over and get something at Tim Hortons or even something on Yonge Street, I have no choice but to get something healthy like this,” Caspersz, a third-year fashion design student, said, looking down at her $4.49, clear-plastic container of sushi. “I’m concerned about the freshness, and price-wise, it should be cheaper for us.”
But Corallo considers food prices to be fair, given Ryerson’s proximity to competition.
“I don’t think that [high prices and poor quality] is a campus view. I don’t think that’s a valid point,” he said, adding that inconsistency across campus was his only pricing concern. “It’s one or two people that have made that concern about the price increase.”
Corallo invited students to compare prices in the cafeteria to similar outlets around campus, like La Maison du Croissant, every comparable food item was cheaper than in the Ryerson cafeteria: croissants by 29 cents, cookies by 26 cents, muffins by 22 cents, and a `muffin and small coffee combo by 60 cents.
A slice of pepperoni pizza from Pizza Pizza in the cafeteria costs 41 cents more than the same slice at Pizza Pizza on Yonge Street, and 48 cents more than a bigger slice at The Big Slice.
In August, Ryerson decided to ship muffins in from an off-campus bakery instead of making them fresh in the kitchen every morning. This was done to ensure quality control and Corallo said the new muffins are still made with the same batter, adding that cost-cutting was not a consideration in the change. The price of muffins has since increased by 21 cents.
The soup has changed too. Originally, it was made from scratch in the cafeteria kitchen, but now comes ready-to-serve, allowing Ryerson to eliminate any chef input.
“The soup program has been received quite well. Students in the cafeteria as well as students in Pitman Hall, at my last food committee meeting, said they loved the soup,” Corallo said, referring to a meeting with residence representatives to discuss food concerns.
Chefs in the kitchen no longer add flavouring ingredients, like they did to the previous soup. “We don’t even have to touch the Cambell’s product,” Corallo said. “We’re saving big money there.”
And they’re saving even more on staff. Full-time cafeteria workers, who receive pensions and benefits, are being replaced by contract and temporary workers, said OPSEU local 596 president, Stephanie Blake. The union represents all non-teaching support staff at Ryerson.
“A larger percentage of workers are temporary workers as opposed to full time. Years ago, they were all full-time,” Blake said, adding that there are still vacant positions in the cafeteria that the university has committed to fill, but hasn’t yet. “[The university’s] whole line is that they have to make a profit.”
The 23 per cent revenue increase, mentioned in the Aramark ad, was collected from cafeteria and Coffee Time customers and goes back to the university. But Corallo said the percentage represents gross revenues, not net revenues. When asked to provide net revenues for food services since Aramark took over, Corallo refused.
“It struck me as very strange that someone who was the conductor of ancillary services at this university would appear in a full-page, colour, glossy advertisement, shilling for Aramark,” Thomlinson said. “He is supposed to be the university representative dealing with Aramark.”
Thomlinson added that the ad also raises questions about Aramark’s contract, which was renewed without ancillary services entertaining offers from other food companies.
Ancillary services is required to open their food services contract up to competition when it expires, in the hope of signing a better deal.
“[If it didn’t] it would be just another example of this university administration thumbing its nose at whatever regulations they find inconvenient,” Thomlinson said.
Corallo admitted that although he is required to invite different bidders for the Ryerson contract, in the past, he had extended the contract at his own discretion.
“There was no reason to open it to competition because Aramark was doing a good job,” Corallo said.
Only two other food service companies — Sodexho Marriott and Compass — are competitive with Aramark, said Corallo, but Aramark has the most bargaining power. This justifies his decision to extend Aramark’s contract, because “across Canada, every … bid that has gone out for tender, Aramark has picked up. So there’s no reason to [invite competition].” Corallo said. “What would give us a reason to [invite competition] when the other universities are choosing Aramark?”
An 80-cent cookie and an 80-cent banana don’t seem reason enough to switch food service providers, but some students question whether it makes sense for the university to be lining its pockets at the expense of hungry students.
“[The university] should be more conscientious of the fact that we’re students,” said Kyla L’Ecuyer, a third-year fashion design student. “We want to get the most food for the best price, not the least amount of food for the most expensive price.”