On-campus dining could present a growth opportunity for branded operators, after new research found that despite record numbers of students attending university, dining on-campus was not currently the top option for students when looking for meals.

The research from Premier Foods found that less than half of students (42%) purchase food from on-campus food outlets, and whilst nearly two thirds of students (60%) purchase food to go once a week or more, the vast majority of students (82%) are turning to food-to-go outlets on the high street.

Earlier this year, Pret A Manger launched its first on-campus site at Exeter University. Chief executive Clive Schlee has told MCA earlier this year that the company planned to open more university sites over the coming 12 months.

Across all year groups, Italian food was the most popular choice, with nearly half of students (49%) wanting to see Italian food more readily available on campus. When deciding where to eat out, cost, quality and value for money come out as the ultimate priorities, with students looking for quality over convenience.

Nearly a quarter of first-year students selected traditional British as their preferred cuisine (22%), while almost a third of second-year students highlighted comfort food as their preferred choice.

Postgraduate masters students were the more likely year group to look out for health-conscious options, while nearly half of fourth-year students described their tastes as adventurous.

Sarah Robb, channel marketing controller at Premier Foods, said: “The research clearly highlights that students want more variety and choice from their university eating establishments.

“With so many new cuisines and food concepts more readily available on the high street, the new brochure will help caterers tap into the trends that students say they are looking for to help cater to their ever-changing appetites and entice them onto campus.”