Case Study

How Byte is Helping Williams College Eliminate Food Deserts and Unlock New Student Amenities

Williams College is a private, self-operated liberal arts college located in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Temesgen Araya, the Director of Dining Services, is responsible for providing meals and grab-and-go options for approximately 2,000 meal plan holders on campus.

“When I first saw the machine, I wanted to buy six of them." — Temesgen Araya, the Director of Dining Services

The Highlights

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The Challenge

Campus construction projects created food deserts across the campus and stressed existing dining halls. Labor shortages caused existing dining areas to be reconfigured and unavailable to students for meals.

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The Solution

Strategically place a Byte fridge in a busy freshman building, giving students a way to nourish their minds across campus. Integrate meal point program with the smart fridge for student simplicity and better dining operations.

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The Result

Students have 24/7 access to fresh, healthy food options through existing meal plan structure. Williams College can offer an additional affordable amenity to students while covering costs and optimizing dining hall employee labor.

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The Challenge

Campus construction across Williams College created food deserts and stressed existing dining halls, leaving some students without access to robust food options.

Williams College is known for its premier academic programs. When a larger infrastructure plan was executed, construction projects created new academic corridors which were left without adequate dining options. 

We’re a rigorous academic institution, meaning our students go into these spaces and never leave. We have a number of new study spaces created through the new Science Building and Library that currently doesn’t have any robust food offerings. We need to figure out a way to provide nutrition that’s more than just a vending machine.

On top of newly formed food deserts, Williams College was simultaneously experiencing an overpopulation of certain dining halls, also caused by the construction projects. This overpopulation, combined with lingering staffing shortages from the COVID-19 pandemic, forced Temesgen and the college to convert one of the previous all-you-can eat dining halls into a dinner-only location operating five days a week.

The reason we went to “dinner only” is so that space could become a production kitchen for the rest of the campus. It produces fresh food for the other dining halls, and we needed the personnel infrastructure to be able to do that.

With dining hall overpopulation looming and new food deserts popping up around campus, Temesgen knew the college needed new ways to feed busy students while construction continued.

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The Solution

24/7 access to fresh food through Byte smart fridges.

Temesgen discovered Byte fridges while attending a National Association of College & University Food Services (NACUFS) conference. He recognized that the autonomous retail fridges would not only allow the university to outsmart staffing constraints and serve more food outside of normal dining hours, but also give students an easy way to access healthy, fresh food. 

We provide students with points (dollars) for their meal plans. Those points were going to existing vending machines, due to the transformation of the dinner-only dining hall. We needed to figure out a way for students to buy nutrition.

Temesgen explains that the “points” freshman use to purchase flexible meals are mandatory with the full meal plan. With this in mind, the first Byte fridge was strategically placed in the freshman building which housed the dinner-only dining hall. 

The value proposition is that we have 300 students all with one hundred dollars in points living in this one dorm.

This first Byte fridge was stocked with healthy food items piggybacking off of the college’s grab-and-go menu implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, including fruit and cheese platters, sandwiches, salads, microwavable breakfast sandwiches, overnight oats, yogurt, and more.

Byte's autonomous retail fridges would not only allow the university to outsmart staffing constraints and serve more food outside of normal dining hours, but also give students an easy way to access healthy, fresh food. 

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The Results

Convenient student access to healthy foods—and a staff that’s proud of the work they’ve done.

With a Byte smart fridge installed in a premier freshman residence hall, students now have immediate access to delicious and nutritious food options throughout the day, rather than being limited to dinner service and pre-packaged snack foods.

From the student standpoint, the Byte fridge is providing a food option that is fresh and not a pre-packaged item like chips or another unhealthy option. It’s conveniently located in their dorm and another way for them to utilize the dining dollars that otherwise may be more difficult to spend throughout campus.

At Williams College, staff use the Byte fridge dashboard to upload a full array of food items and monitor inventory levels. In an environment where dining halls have to compete with traditional vending machines, dining staff take a sense of ownership and pride in the food they create and serve to hungry students each day. 

When staff look at the dashboard, they’re seeing the items that fly off the shelf. They’re all like ‘Oh yeah, it’s working. Let’s fill it!’ There’s a lot of pride in that.

Williams College implemented the Byte fridge in the latter part of the spring semester, so the full impact of the technology will be realized in the upcoming semesters. However, for now, the college is thrilled to provide a convenient and low-cost amenity to on-campus students.

We did not set out to be profitable. This is an amenity, a convenience item, that’s provided for our students that’s as low-cost as we can make it, but still covers the cost of the product.

Additionally, the institution takes great pride in its sustainability initiatives, which were extended to the Byte smart fridge on campus. 

The packaging we use for the food items are all reusable containers. This makes it a much more sustainable option than your typical vending machine. We have an internal flow of how those containers are used, dropped off, picked up, cleaned, and recycled.

As more construction projects remain on campus, Williams College is excited to add additional fridges in food desert areas around the property. 

We just received our second unit, and the next location is the library. 

"Byte will continue to be a healthy wellness initiative and our solution to food deserts on campus. It isn’t just a short term solution.”

Unlock New Opportunities.

Byte Technology helps retailers, food service operators, and vending companies sell fresh food anywhere, anytime. Reach out today to learn more about how Byte’s smart fridges can help your business grow.

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