Erin Brereton

School's in Session: Marketing to College Kids

It’s no secret college kids love free food. And some bakeries are using non-traditional methods to get their attention. Instead of word-of-mouth marketing, Legendary Doughnuts practices into-mouth marketing. When new students at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, tour the area, guides bring them into the shop for a free donut.

The freebies pay off; newcomers quickly turn into regulars. They’re drawn to the bakery not only by its unique creations topped with novelty ingredients like Fruity PEBBLES™, but also because it offers coffee and free Wi-Fi. 

“Students just naturally gather here,” says Manager Shari Watkins.

Free treats and amenities aren’t the only way to attract college kids. See how else bakeries turn students into loyal customers

1. Use Local Ingredients

One of Metropolitan Bakery’s locations is on the edge of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and 80 percent of its customers are students. The restaurant found that using natural, locally sourced ingredients resonates with college students, who also appreciate indulgent sweets.

Millennials are very conscious about not buying foods that have artificial colors; but they’re not necessarily calorie counting,” co-owner Wendy Born says. “They care about where food is sourced from and that we’re buying from people who have good, solid values.”

2. Keep Them Caffeinated

Millennials and Gen Zers have a taste for coffee. Over one-third of 18- to 24-year-olds drink it daily, according to the National Coffee Association of USA. Research firm Datassential found the average millennial born after 1995 started drinking coffee at 14. Raised on lattes and flat whites, college students will pay a premium for quality coffee beverages. As with anything for this tech-savvy demographic, make beautiful coffee drinks to inspire social sharing. And don’t forget to recommend pastry pairings for these beverages to encourage sales.

3. Cater to the Crowd

When Metropolitan opened, it didn’t take credit cards. Over the years, that’s changed, partially to accommodate younger customers.

“More often than not, students don’t have any cash and are buying a $2 item with credit,” Born says. Metropolitan not only offers price points students can afford, but also strives to make both taking food to go and dining at the cafe personalized experiences.

“Our staff is trained to try to immediately build a rapport—that matters a lot with younger age groups,” Born says.