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SOU inks Sodexo Worldwide contract for food services

Ashland's Southern Oregon University has contracted with an international food services company in an attempt to stem hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses from its food-services program over the past three years.

The France-based Sodexo Worldwide on Aug. 1 will begin providing beverages, meals, snacks and concessions at SOU's Cascade Dining Hall, Hannon Library and Stevenson Union, all located at 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland, as well as at the Greensprings Housing Complex and sporting events.

"They are able to do for us in management of the contract what we weren't able to do internally," said Jonathan Eldridge, SOU vice president for student affairs. "The big upside for us is all of our employees will retain their jobs."

In addition to saving the university money and preserving jobs, the move is expected to increase the appeal of SOU's food offerings by providing made-to-order meals and fresher ingredients, Eldridge said.

"For example, things are currently cooked in the kitchen and then put out until people purchase them," he said. "Sodexo will move some of that preparation out to the service areas so there will be fresh aromas and sights. By cooking to order, not only can people personalize what they're eating, but they can see how it's prepared, which has become an expectation."

As a part of its contract, Sodexo will provide more than $500,000 in upgrades to SOU's food services venues, including Elmo's in the Stevenson Union and the Cascade Dining Hall. "The improvements they make will be largely aesthetic," Eldridge said.

Summer students will encounter some renovations while passing through those areas, he said. The renovations are anticipated to be complete by Aug. 1.

The company will put an emphasis on providing fresh, local and organic produce and environmentally sustainable practices such as composting and recycling, Eldridge said.

The public university of more than 5,000 students has lost more than $500,000 on its food-services program, which had been designed and provided by SOU classified employees.

"Since that wasn't tenable for the future, we looked at contracting out," Eldridge said.

Sodexo and Chartwells submitted proposals for the contract, but Sodexo met all of the university's criteria, including environmental sustainability, Eldridge said.

All 18 of SOU's food-services employees will keep their jobs with the transition of management to Sodexo, Eldridge said. Five managers will become Sodexo employees.

Sodexo, operating in the United States, Great Britain and France, already has a strong presence in public education in Jackson County. The company provides food services to the Medford School District (the state's 10th largest), Ashland School District, Phoenix-Talent School District and, most recently, Eagle Point School District.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.