Case Study—Syracuse University


Syracuse University takes care of it’s own food services operations, serving dining halls, campus cafes, campus delivery, event catering, and the carrier dome. All of the food for campus is delivered and distributed from one central point: the SU Commissary, which has over 1 million food items in stock at any given time.

“We’ve got 20 thousand people on campus, we are bigger than some cities” — SU Head of Purchasing

SU Food services maintains a list of local food suppliers on it’s website. This list includes truly local suppliers like Byrne Dairy, who use local dairy in their local facility, as well as suppliers like General Mills, who possess local operations but do not necessarily use local ingredients. This makes it necessary to very clearly define what local means when talking about local food. For our purposes, local food is grown in Central New York and the surrounding region.

“we use as much locally as we can if it’s cost effective and feasible… we have a budget just like everyone else”

— SU Head of Purchasing

There are several purchasing goals that SU Food services, and any larger purchaser of food, must take into account:

  1. Product
  2. Price
  3. Quantity
  4. Time
  5. Supplier

These purchasing goals affect an institution’s ability to buy local food. If a product is too expensive, or there is not enough of it, it is likely to look for other suppliers. Another major factor is time, if local food is not available when it is needed, than they must purchase from elsewhere. For example, much of the food produced around Syracuse is not available during the winter months and by extension the majority of the school year.

“five years ago we couldn’t give a cup of Greek yogurt away, now we are serving almost as much as Swiss style” — SU Head of Purchasing

Consumer taste is another huge influencing factor in an institution’s purchasing decisions. If no one wants local food, than the institution has no reason to buy it. If there is demand for avocado, which is nearly impossible to grow in Syracuse, than the university will likely purchase from Californian and Mexican sources. If there is demand for greek yogurt, which is produced by Chobani and Bryne Dairy using local cows, than the university is more likely to purchase locally. An important implication of consumer taste is that if the consumer base—SU staff and students—demand local food than food services will be happy to oblige.

Additional Resources

Syracuse University Food Services