The Prentice Café at the Ohio university is to be managed by foodservice giant Sodexo, which also helped design the facility. All menu items in the hall – which opened on the first day of the fall semester and is expected to serve 800 students a day – are gluten free.
The facility will tap growing demand for gluten-free foods and has been developed after Kent State University (KSU) administrators noticed the number of students arriving on campus with gluten intolerance was rising each year.
The US has been tipped as a major growth opportunity for the gluten-free category.
According to analysts Euromonitor International, the US is by far the largest market in terms of overall size, but per capita gluten-free food consumption in the US trails many countries including Finland, the UK, Canada, Italy and Australia.
Sodexo said that, although many US campuses already offer gluten-free products and some offer gluten-free stations in their halls, KSU is the first to offer an entire dining hall that is certified gluten-free.
Prentice Café gained certification from Gluten-Free Certification Organization, a program offered through non-profit organization Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG).
"Students' needs have always been our top priority," said KSU dining services director Rich Roldan. "Students have enough to worry about – they should not have to worry about their food being safe to eat. It is important they can eat in a safe environment.”
Self-conscious about dietary needs
Administrators also considered that students are sometimes self-conscious about special dietary needs and often prefer not to feel singled out when dining on campus.
"It's important for students who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance to be able to have a safe location where they can go," said KSU dining services dietitian Megan Brzuski. "There are many different menu items and options available for students to choose from at Prentice Café."
In addition to every item being gluten-free, the menu also features a variety of vegan and vegetarian dishes, as well as foods designed to support a healthy lifestyle.