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September 15, 2019 | by  | in News | [ssba]

The Last Supper: VUW and VUWSA on KJ


Many following Salient will know of the series of articles written on the substandard quality of food within Victoria University’s halls of residence, especially Katharine Jermyn hall.


Compass Group is one of the largest food catering companies in the world, with their New Zealand branch being no exception. Along with catering the VUW halls, Compass also caters for other places around the country, such as Dunedin Hospital. 


The contract that Compass has with Dunedin Hospital is longstanding, however, that hasn’t stopped numerous complaints from both staff and patients from creating a turbulent relationship with the caterers.


Not only this, Compass International has a suspension from the United Nations, after one of their board members (a Russian UN official) was arrested for wire fraud and money laundering, as well as bribing other officials in order to secure a contract to cater water and rations to UN peacekeepers.


Despite this, VUW recently renewed their contract with Compass to cater its halls.


Salient was able to sit down with Rainsforth Dix, Director of Student and Campus Living, to further discuss this issue.


“We’ve been engaging the campus on a daily basis, from time to time, and certainly a weekly basis, and been across the board. We meet regularly with them anyway,” stated Dix.


“Aside from that, we’ve been engaging with them quite strongly.”


After being shown photos of some of the poorer quality food served at KJ, Dix commented that if she was presented with that food, that she would be unhappy with it and that she would “certainly go and complain about it”.

“We’ve had many conversations since this came to our attention, and what we do know is that they had a change of staffing in Katharine Jermyn Hall at the beginning of this year,” Dix explained.

She continued to say that “We did ask them to address that issue, and they have addressed that issue. We’ve also asked them to address the consistency and quality of food that they’ve offered.”

A 2019 article released by Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center showed that students facing ‘food insecurity’ were more likely to have “lower grades and poorer health”. 

This, coupled with the already acute stress of academic life, may have a detrimental impact on students’ wellbeing and academic success.

Salient met with Simon Lipscombe, Managing Director of Compass Group NZ, to talk about the issues and complaints.

When asked what quality of food he would expect if paying the same amount as a halls resident, Lipscombe remarked that “If you’re spending a lot of money on food you should expect a high degree of quality and service, which is what we aim to do.”

After being shown the same photos of food (a raw pork meatball, a salt-encrusted piece of tofu, and a pork chop with a tendon still attached) Lipscombe commented that “we serve 15 million meals a year in New Zealand. Every one of them is our mission to make sure they’re the absolute best for our customers.”

These same customers have been previously served mouldy dessert and maggot-filled meals.

Compass says that they strive to ensure good quality meals through systems such as an app for monitoring and reporting on food quality, yet slip-ups like the ones seen in KJ still occur frequently.

Given Compass International’s past transgressions, Lipscombe was asked if he thought that the company (and the New Zealand branch) had learned from their mistakes.

“I’m vaguely aware of those [mistakes] but I think Compass Group is very proud of being a market leader like I am in New Zealand. When you’re a market leader, you know, the expectation on you to perform and deliver, as you pointed out, is at a much higher standard.”

“I take my accountability really really seriously,” he continued. “That’s the core of our business”.

The specific changes made by Compass within the halls include precautions such as hiring new managers and chefs, implementing new quality control procedures such as additional reviews of all food served, and re-training of all staff.

Talking to VUW and Compass, both were adamant that they received more positive feedback than negative.

When asked to provide evidence of this, Compass gave Salient an infographic highlighting the number of positive comments received against negative comments.

The only evidence VUW provided was referencing the previous information given by Compass Group, and stating that they did not keep a record of comments regarding hall food. However, they commented that “we receive a lot of positive comments on the food but they are anecdotal”.

Many of VUW halls have student-made instagram accounts dedicated to, amongst other things, recording poor quality meals served by Compass.

VUWSA has responded to Salient on the long-standing issues regarding hall food, stating that “it is now a waiting game”.

They say it is time to see whether enough changes and improvements have been made to provide students with the value they deserve, and back up their own comments of reassurance.

“We would hope that the university from here on out would supply students in halls not only a meal that they themselves would be happy to eat, but is reflective of the money they pay.”

Though both parents and students have urged the university to make a drastic change, there are no plans to source catering to a different company for the foreseeable future.

Quotes and anecdotes collected by Salient, as well as the numerous hall food Instagram pages, indicate that this issue is one of deep concern for the quality of food being served to the residents at VUW halls. 

“You’re paying that kind of money and you do expect that, because of that, you wouldn’t need to question your food,” commented one KJ resident. 

Commenting on a particular broccoli meal on @kathyjcuisine, another resident stated that “they somehow manage to be simultaneously soggy and raw, they must work really hard to achieve that. It’s a KJ special.”

While many systems and plans are said to have been put in place, actual change is yet to be reported.


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