The Daily Gamecock

New Flex meal plan yields small increase in sales

New Flex option replaces popular traditional choice

Students have bought 7,428 meal plans so far this semester, only 20 more than in September of last year, despite this year's freshman class increasing by 150 students, according to preliminary numbers provided by Carolina Dining Monday.

Dining only saw a small increase in meal plan sales, even though all freshmen are required to buy meal plans and despite the unveiling of its new Flex meal plans this semester.

Flex meal plans are only available for purchase by upperclassmen and are meant to provide, aptly, more flexible spending options for students by allowing them to purchase meals at any time instead of during certain meal periods.
Flex meals have received criticism from students for not being worth their price. A Mega Flex plan, the largest of the three, sells for $1,385 but only provides a retail value of $940.

"Commuters are where we're seeing the decrease, but they're the ones that typically add throughout the semester," said Cynthia Steele, marketing manager for Carolina Dining.

Steele stressed that the numbers wouldn't be official until after Sept. 1.
This semester, Dining removed the most popular meal plan among commuters, the traditional 5 Meal Plan. The plan, which 826 commuter students bought, was meant to be replaced with the Minor Flex plan, which sells for $700, has a retail value of $460 and is only available for upperclassmen.

But Steele said the comparison between the 5 Meal and Minor Flex plans wasn't effectively communicated, and neither was the purpose of the rest of the Flex plans.

"We have heard the feedback from students, and we are looking at a new way to market it, comparing apples to apples instead of apples to oranges, so hopefully students will be able to grasp it a little better," Steele said.

Overall, 895 Flex plans were sold: 664 Minor Flex plans, 146 Major Flex plans and 85 Mega Flex plans. Many of the upperclassmen and commuters who bought Flex plans would have otherwise purchased traditional meal plans.

"Instead of showing 10 traditional meal plans that cost this much and a Flex plan that is basically 10 meals that costs this much, we showed basically percentages," Steele said. "Whereas in the traditional meal plan, you don't see that as obviously."

Pennsylvania State University pioneered the Flex plan concept, and the institution is now entirely on Flex. Virginia Tech picked up the concept from Pennsylvania and was awarded the No. 1 spot for "Best Campus Food" in last year's Princeton Review ranking.

"At Virginia Tech it took six years to catch on, and in the seventh year the students voted to just go with the Flex plan," Steele said.

Steele said Dining does not intend to replace traditional meal plans with Flex, but instead plans to sell them side by side and let students decide.
Christopher Brett, a second-year civil engineering student, said he enjoyed his Major Flex plan despite the cost.

"I love it because I can eat at any time, and I can buy snacks half off," Brett said.

But Meredith Nix, a second-year chemical engineering student, said she wasn't convinced.

"It seemed like a rip-off," Nix said.