Sodexo Explains Inconsistent Prices


Published: November 3, 2010

A bottle of Coca-Cola from the vending machine next to the bookstore costs $1.50; a bottle from the vending machine in the cafeteria is $1.65; that same bottle from the coolers by the hot food queue is $1.54 (tax excluded). Such inconsistencies have prompted concerns among students at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC).

When presented with these prices, Brian Poteat, general manager of food services at FCLC and Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH), said, “We know there is an inconsistency with coolers and vending machines.

The reason is two fold, according to Poteat. “There’s more labor involved with coolers.” Poteat said. He explained that there are employees who are hired specifically to re-stock the coolers in the cafeteria, and those employees’ labor is included in the price. He also said that the tax added to soda is already figured into the price of the bottles in the machines, whereas customers pay the tax separately when they pay at the register.

“Come January, everything should be the same price across the board. It’s probably going to be more expensive,” Poteat said. Prices have not yet been determined.

He also explained that the pricing of the soda sold in the vending machines is contracted exclusively between Coca-Cola and Fordham, not Sodexo.

The prices of soda also include the five cent deposit charge as part of the Bottle Bill passed in New York State in 2009. According to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, retailers pay a five cent deposit on each bottle bought and, in turn, consumers pay an extra five cents for the same bottle. A consumer can receive 3.5 cents back for returning the empty bottle to the retailer to be recycled.

“We never took the increase until this year for the 5 cents [charged by New York State].” Poteat said. “We knew it was going to be a jump but we needed to because it costs a lot of money.”

Poteat said Sodexo, which caters to about half the Jesuit universities in America, uses “right pricing” twice a year to determine the cost of the products sold in the Lowenstein Café. Food Services compares the prices at FCLC with neighboring places, such as Alan’s Marketplace, Europan and others.

“Every year there is an inflationary increase. We don’t do a blanket increase; it’s per item. We decreased candy this year because it wasn’t competitive with what we were seeing [in the neighborhood].”

However, there seems to have been no such adjustment in the realm of ice cream:  the Haagen Dazs ice cream in the cafeteria is $2.99, but two blocks over at the CVS on Ninth Avenue, the same size ice cream costs $1.69.

In order to configure an item’s price, Poteat said, “We take every product that we sell and we figure all the cost associated with it.”

This cost, referred to by Poteat as “overhead costs,” includes the salaries, pensions and health care of all Sodexo employees.

“We have a union and pay [our employees’] pension and health care benefits. We pay what is comparable to a living wage, well above the living wage in the Bronx.” Poteat also said that employees get an increase in pay every year.

“They need to pay people, but there has to be another way to get the money,” Kitty Buehler, FCLC ’13, said. “I feel like they shouldn’t get the money to pay employees by adding 50 cents to my food.”

“I think that if the soda machine prices are going to be different due to a labor cost, students should be made aware of that.” Sarah Molinari, FCLC ’11, said. “It’s not fair for consumers who buy the same product at the same place [in Fordham] to not be aware of price differences that could save them money.”

Poteat said prices in the Lowenstein Cafe are “comparative with what we see at Rose Hill and what we see in the neighborhood.”

“We believe we should have the pricing the same at both campuses because it’s the same product.”

However, some students do not think the equal pricing at both campuses is warranted.

“It would be fair if it was the same food,” Terence Thiel, FCLC ’11, said. “The food is good up there [in the Bronx] so if they made it the same [quality at FCLC], it would be worth it.”

Poteat said there will be a meal plan at FCLC similar to that at Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH), with resident dining instead of a retail facility, when the new residence building at is erected next to the law school as part of Fordham’s Master Plan.

Despite differences in price and variety between the Lowenstein Café and its competitors, some FCLC students rely on the cafeteria because of its convenience during the day.

“I need [the cafeteria] for in between class and [to get] coffee.” Kitty Buehler, FCLC ’13, said. “I get snacks mostly. I like the smoothies.”

She also said, “Especially as a freshman [last year], I had no income so I had to eat [in the cafeteria]. But I can go outside and get food cheaper.”

Anthony Becker, FCLC ’14, said he usually eats lunch in the cafeteria. “I think the inconsistency of the soda prices is pretty lame, but not so much that it would make a difference to the average person who’s looking for a quick drink.”

He did admit that the pricing of the food he buys is not ideal. “I think the food is overpriced, particularly the meals and some individual wrapped items that otherwise wouldn’t cost as much, like jellos or parfaits.”

Other students value price over convenience and therefore choose to eat outside the cafeteria.

“I get a salad from Alan’s because it’s better quality, it’s a little cheaper and you don’t have to wait in a huge line at peak hours.” Thiel said. “The line [in the cafeteria] goes so slowly.”

Amanda Sadlowski, FCLC ’11, said she stopped eating in the cafeteria after her declining balance was spent in her sophomore year. “It would be super convenient, if it was even a little bit of a money-saver, but I would rather use the vending machines or walk a block or two to CVS or Alan’s for food or a candy fix because the prices [in the cafeteria] are that outrageous,” she said.

Molinari also stopped eating at the cafeteria. “In my two years at Fordham, I’ve only bought the cafeteria food once because of its poor quality and high prices,” she said.

A survey was sent out last year by United Student Government (USG) to determine the “facility gap analysis,” designed to find out what students would like to see in the cafeteria and what they could do without. They received 500 responses, according to Poteat.

A major set back with upgrading the cafeteria is the space available to cook. “I don’t think anyone thought long-term when they built this space.” Poteat said.

Despite this, the menu in the Lowenstein Café was upgraded this year, according to Poteat. There is a new chef available to make eggs to order from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. during the week, as well as a sushi cooler to be added soon.

Poteat offered students advice, saying, “It would make much more sense to use declining balance [than cash or credit card].”  He said that if you pay with cash or credit card in the cafeteria, you are charged a tax. However, if you swipe your declining balance card, you are not charged any tax at all.

Chris Chromey, FCLC’12 and pro tempore of USG Senate, said he is “working with [Sodexo] to reach some amicable end [with pricing].”

He said he will be discussing these issues with members of the University’s Food Services at the University facility meetings. The next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 4.

Buehler said, “The idea of a cafeteria is somewhere kids on a college budget can eat.”