University

Canteen prices raised again

Up to twenty percent

Recently, the Dutch VAT went up by 3 percentage points. But prices in the canteens of the RUG went up way more. In relation to last year, the increase is even 20 percent. ‘We had no choice’, says Beijk.
By Zander Lamme / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen / Photo Luís Felipe Fonseca Silva

Students and staff were furious when the catering responsibilities at the RUG were taken over by a private catering company. They felt that Beijk, the new operator, was doing everything wrong. The prices went up and the portion sizes went down. Sausage rolls, previously priced at 1.80, suddenly cost 2.25, and Mars bars went from 80 cents to a whole euro. The price of coffee stayed the same, but the cups it came in got smaller.

Prices have increased once again, since the Dutch VAT went from 6 to 9 percent on 1 January (an increase of 3 percentage points). But the product prices at the RUG canteens went up by much more. The ‘fancy sandwiches’ are now 3.30 instead of just 3 euros (a year ago they cost 2.95: a 10 percent increase. Vivit and Optimel became 10 cents more expensive and now cost 1.30: an increase of 8 percent. Soda went from 1.80 to 2 euros. Compared to last year’s price (1.65), that’s a total increase of 21 percent, which is an entirely different VAT category.

Excuse

‘They’ve taken the opportunity to up all their prices’, student Joost Schutte theorises. ‘But it’s not in proportion to the VAT increase. They’re using it as an excuse.’

We were compelled to increase our prices

The price increase also isn’t in line with the normal increase in consumer prices. Statistics Netherlands calculated that consumer prices in the Netherlands have gone up by 1.2 percent a year since 2010 (excluding product-related taxes such as VAT). That’s nothing compared with some of the increases at the RUG.

Catering company Beijk says this increase is due to ‘a considerable indexation’. ‘Unfortunately, we were compelled to adjust our sales prices.’ Marcel de Boer, manager of Contract Catering, explains: ‘We have to pay more for the products we’re purchasing, so we had to increase our sales prices.’

Health food

According to De Boer, the products can be divided into two categories. One group is part of the basic package, and Beijk isn’t allowed to raise the prices on those products willy-nilly. This concerns slices of bread, soup, coffee, or a carton of milk. But they can raise prices on the other products. Such as soda, or a ‘fancy’ sandwich. ‘We are free to determine those prices’, says De Boer. ‘But we do have a reason for why we do things. We’re free to change the prices on sugar-free drinks, but we decided not to because they’re healthy. We want people to choose healthy products. We can’t force people to only eat healthy food, they’ll just go buy fries somewhere else. But we can try to motivate people.’

But De Boer says the purchase prices of healthy products have increased significantly, and the company has to make up the difference somehow. ‘We should have made our healthy products more expensive, but we decided it was a better idea to increase the prices on the unhealthy food.’

Employees at the various canteens prepared themselves for a barrage of new complaints, but it’s actually not been ‘all that bad’, says Harmonie building canteen coordinator Marianne Woltjer. ‘It’s not what we expected.’

Fancy soup

A quick random survey among students also showed they’re not all that angry. ‘I didn’t really notice, to be honest. I’ve already been to the canteen to buy tea and chocolates, but it just passed me by’, says Jalien Nomden.

We want people to choose healthy products

Ruby Perks didn’t notice either. She always gets hot chocolate from the machine. ‘It was 40 cents. But it’s always been 40 cents’, she says.

RUG staff has been complaining though. ‘Especially the professors’, she says, laughing. The most prevalent complaint – ‘from especially slightly older people’ – concerns the soup. A cup of soup used to cost a single euro, but now it’s 1.10. But it’s not that 10 percent increase that people are bothered by.

In addition to the cheap, simple soup, there are also richer, more expensive soups, costing 1.65. But canteen patrons claim that the simple soup is even less substantial than before. ‘And they’re right’, a canteen employee admits.

Recipe

Professor Martijn Wieling was so dismayed he decided to take to Twitter, using the hashtag #TijdVoorEenNieuweCateraar (time for a new caterer). But when he was asked for a response, he back-pedalled. ‘They don’t have to go necessarily, they could also just change their ways. But I left to take a holiday last year and they increased the price of soup from 1 euro to 1.65 in my absence.’

Wieling feels the division into two segments has not been implemented well. ‘If you advertise ‘fancy’ soup, I’ll expect something new. Like something Mexican maybe, not the same soup that used to be a euro. But I’m basing this on my experiences from a single day. Maybe things will be different today.’

Beijk says people wanted a richer soup option; they had indicated as such in a customer satisfaction survey. The claim that the simple soup costing 1.10 is less substantial than the soup that cost 1 euro last year is incorrect, they say. ‘That would mean that particular canteen isn’t following the rules, because we have a strict recipe for our soups.’

Vegan

There were other consequences to the customer satisfaction survey. The Asian Yam Yam bar has been replaced by a station offering vegan and vegetarian options. At the Academy building, people can even order from a menu. That means they have the choice of salmon or steak on top of the dish of the day. ‘You can also enjoy a glass of wine or a beer with your evening meal.’

The woman working at the canteen in the Academy building thinks the number of complaints is lower this time because groceries have also gone up in price. In fact, very few people were upset about the 15 cent increase for a cup of coffee. Angelique Kleingeld and Arjen Weening, who both work at the restaurant, have a tip to prevent you from paying that increase, though: ‘Bring your own cup: you’ll get a 15 cent discount and then the price is the same as it used to be.’

Correction:  Due to an error in the editing process, an earlier version of this article suggested that prices in the canteen had gone up to twenty percent after the VAT increase of 2019. That is not correct. The 20 percent refers to the price increase in relation to last year, when Beijk Catering took over the canteens of the RUG.

The cantine in the Linnaeusborg

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