It had begun. Running around visiting every food market or eatery on campus was no mere chore: It was the reason; the rhyme; the task at hand. It was the quest for the best price of a pint of Upstate Farms’ Intense Milk. Where was it the cheapest? The most expensive? Nobody knew
College students are beset with plenty of responsibility they must live independently, clean up after themselves, sustain their need to eat and pay for college. A definite concern, regardless of meal plan or lack thereof, is always the cost of groceries. There are plenty of options for getting food on campus, but depending on the item, the packaging or even the brand, prices can differ everywhere. When narrowed down to identical items however, this is where the real questions come from: How much do prices for the same item vary across campus? And is it worth it to buy on campus, or can it be found elsewhere for a better price?
Take these five everyday items: Upstate Farms Intense Milk, Lipton PureLeaf Iced Tea, Vanilla Crisp PowerBars, Nature Valley Granola Bars, and Starbucks Doubleshots. These can be found most stores or vending machines around campus. The price of some of these items varies from place to place. For instance, a pint of Intense Milk is cheapest on campus at Global Village Market and Crossroads and also Wegmans at $1.49, but most expensive if bought from a vending machine, with a difference of about 25 cents.
Now, consider Vanilla Crisp PowerBars. The price of this item varies everywhere on campus. The cheapest all-around price, $0.99, is found at Wegmans. The most expensive is here on campus at Sol’s Underground, for the price of $2.99. There is a bus that services RIT for free on the weekends, so going to Wegmans via bus to buy PowerBars may be worth it unless, of course, the travel time is too invaluable to the buyer.
So why are there these differences in pricing across campus? Pricing begins with the bidding process. Dean Engdahl, Assistant Director of Dining Services, is in charge of purchasing for all Dining Service locations. According to Engdahl, interested companies get together and make offers to cover most of their food needs. Whoever wins gets RIT’s business for five years. “We look for the best price so we can keep our costs down,” says Engdahl. This year, Palmer Food Services (PFS) won the bid for RIT Dining Services. PFS is a local Rochester supplier and doesn’t require large vehicles to bring food to RIT from far away. The cost of diesel gas for these trucks, if needed, is included in the bid price. There are also other, smaller bids with companies for other things like paper products or dairy, but those bids happen every two years or so.
PepsiCo. is another large bidder. They’ve supplied to RIT for over a decade, renewing their bid every five years. “They have exclusive pouring rights to the campus, so we can’t sell any [Coca Cola] products anywhere,” says Engdahl, “But we can put in 15 percent non-Pepsi products in the stores.”
Due to the competetive nature of this system, smaller buyers like RIT Dining Services will never be able to compete with bigger corporations such as Wegmans or Wal-Mart.
“The Corner Store or Global Village market, their pricing’s more based on like a 7-11 convenience store pricing,” says Engdahl. “They buy a lot of things, but there’s no way they can compete with the volume of a Wegmans
we’re never going to get the pricing that they get.” The reason for this, Engdahl says, is because of the amount each store buys. Wegmans buys from their own warehouse in quantities ranging in the hundreds, whereas places like The Corner Store only buy about fifteen cases of a product. When these products are placed on the shelves of RIT’s local markets, the selling price at which they are sold comes from a food cost percentage that Dining Services sets in order to meet budgets. When brought up to Engdahl, he had no knowledge of the price differences. “The prices among the campus should be very similar,” he stated. When presented with the difference in Intense Milk prices, Engdahl said he would investigate the discrepancy.
Price difference can also come from the means used to purchase items. For instance, there is no tax charge on food debit or meal options, but there is one on Tiger Bucks. This is because food debit and meal options are specifically meant for buying food with, whereas money that comes from Tiger Bucks or a credit card can be used to buy non-food items, which are taxable.
According to the statistics, prices vary marginally, if at all, from place to place on campus. Regardless, prices will always be cheaper if not the same off campus at large grocery stores. For individual items, it’s not really worth the drive or the time it takes to take to bus there, get groceries, and come back. Usually, buying in bulk or larger quantities is more cost-effective than buying by the item, such as with the PowerBars three at Wegmans for the price of one at Sol’s Underground. Instead of buying by the product, this seems the way to get more bang for the buck.