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SOU finalizing talks for new food-service provider

ASHLAND — International food services company Sodexo Inc. won't be serving meals at Southern Oregon University next year, as its contract will not be renewed at the end of this month, university officials said.

Minnesota-based A'viands Food and Services Management has been singled out from four similar organizations who returned a request for proposals made by SOU in April.

A'viands is taking part in one-on-one negotiations with SOU for a 10-year contract to oversee its food services on campus, university Housing Director Tim Robitz told the Ashland Daily Tidings.

Sodexo, A'viands, Chartwells Catering Services and Aramark Food Services submitted proposals for the contract, each estimating it could generate between $300,000 and $500,000 in profits for SOU annually, Robitz said.

"We are in the process of negotiating with them (A'viands) and identifying a contract," Robitz said. "Transitional planning should be coming out here over the next three to four weeks."

Robitz said A'viands expects that it could generate between $8 million and $15 million of revenue over the contract period, which will include managing a 27,800-square-foot, one-story dining and community hall being constructed along with two new residence halls north of Ashland Street on the east side of SOU's campus.

Those buildings are on pace to open by fall term 2013, SOU Vice President of Student Affairs Jonathan Eldridge said.

A campus committee tasked with reviewing the proposals from each food service provider unanimously selected A'viands to take the helm at SOU, Robitz said.

"We're optimistic about what we can accomplish "… it's not just about generating money, it's about increasing the value of food service at SOU and taking care of our students," he said.

Students should expect new, "more flexible" meal plans, he said, adding A'viands would encompass local food providers and farms in its offerings.

Sodexo, who inked a deal with the university three years ago, will clear out Sept. 1, Robitz said, when A'viands will take over if the pending deal is reached.

Sodexo General Manager at SOU Mary Sossaman declined to comment, as did representatives from A'viands.

Robitz said Sodexo was a good fit at SOU, but the emergence of a new dining facility on campus meant the university had to reprocess its food services contract and A'viands stood out as the better choice.

The organization plans to provide between $1 million and $3 million for capital improvements to campus dining facilities if it is awarded the contract, Robitz said.

As negotiations are ongoing, Robitz said he could not discuss how much the 10-year contract will be worth.

Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.