Branding the University of Colorado Denver Food Pantry

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Branding the University of Colorado Denver’s Food Pantry // Research Paper Jess Diaz In today’s educational climate, it is ever increasingly difficult for students to meet life’s basic needs while pursuing a degree. The topic of diversity is often talked about and valued in the education system. While Universities across the country make education more accessible to people from diverse backgrounds, they don’t often consider equitable solutions regarding their complex and intersectional backgrounds. College food-insecurity is a great example. Food insecurity, as defined by the National Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, is “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food, or the ability to acquire such food in a socially acceptable manner. The most extreme form is often accompanied by physiological sensations of hunger.” In 2018 the Hope Center recorded forty percent of University of Colorado Denver respondents as food-insecure (2018 #RealCollege). The Hope Centers annual #RealCollege survey is the nation’s largest assessment of basic needs security among college students. Hunger can lead to poor concentration, malnutrition, undernourishment, a higher risk for mental and other physical health disorders. These affects directly translate into how well students perform in the classroom.The University of Colorado Denver has had a free food pantry available to the community for years. With a resource like the food pantry available to all, the question was posed as to why there is still such a high rate of food insecurity on campus? After some preliminary research online as to how other universities approach food insecurity, I came across a study the University of Florida, that explains why their students were not using the food pantry. Psychological barriers and a lack of awareness were the primary reasons reported by students (Zein). To confirm if these reasons could also true on the Auraria Campus, I conducted an interactive survey in the form of a three-dimensional modular installation. Over the course of two days about 50 students answered a series of 5 questions as either YES or NO. More than 60% of survey respondents knew there was a free food pantry available to them, and at the same time, nearly 90% believed there should be a greater awareness for food resources available to students. Shame, vulnerability, and the fear of being labeled are psychological barrier many peers of mine have admittedly experienced while accessing the food pantry at CU Denver. At the University of Florida, “the main impediments to using the food pantry were social stigma and embarrassment,” fear of judgment, shame, and the expectation of self-sufficiency (Zein). In the survey I conducted, 78% of respondents say they feel shame is associated with food insecurity. To measure the level of food insecurity prevalent, I asked two questions appropriated from the Hope Center’s 2018 Denver Survey. Of the students who answered 83% said they do skip meals sometimes to save money. 65% of respondents said they could not afford to eat balanced meals in the last 30 days. The results deduced by the survey prove that the perceived stigma surrounding food insecurity on Auraria campus prevents students from going to the food pantry. 1

What I know is that the lack of awareness combined with psychological barriers is what prevents hungry students from accessing the food pantry. I also know that emotion and experience drive brand perception. Food pantries are associated with crisis and desperate need. Many peers on the lower end of food insecurity have said they feel bad taking from students who may need food more them, even if they also need assistance. For the CU Denver food pantry to be successful the perception surrounding food insecurity must change, and this will happen through the development of a brand strategy and identity with high attention to user experience. My design thesis research question was formulated as: how can branding principles and techniques be used to alleviate the stigma of food insecurity at CU Denver to encourage hungry college students to increase their use of the university’s food pantry? A better brand perception was necessary to target food-insecure students at CU Denver and create a positive image around the food pantry. Brand strategy including positioning, personality, brand story, and tone, as well as a complete brand identity including all visual elements and various touchpoints is the proposed solution. It is impossible to solve food insecurity with a single Food Pantry. Instead, my main goal is get food-insecure students to utilize the Food Pantry more often than they currently do. To begin the process of brand strategy, I needed to get a better idea of exactly who I am targeting. The Hope Center’s annual basic needs survey found that “generally” students who are Caucasian and heterosexual “have lower rates of basic needs insecurity as compared to their peers” (Goldrick-Rab). The highest self-reported cases of food-insecurity in the Hope Center’s 2018 #RealCollege survey was among college students aged 21 to 30. Those most affected in this age range are first generation students, international, those identifying as “other” than heterosexual, low-income, transgender, single and divorced parents, people of color, employed, declare themselves independent, have been convicted of a crime, and / or have medical conditions and psychological disorders. These are the students who must be targeted, and so a target audience persona was then developed. What food-insecure students said would help them access the food pantry more was a sense of safety and security, feeling reassurance that they are not alone, easier access, more knowledge on the pantries presence and what it provides, a larger conversation around the subject (community), and equitable action on the Universities behalf in addressing basic needs security. A point of action the Hope Center suggests using is to “evolve programmatic work to advance cultural changes on campus. Isolating basic needs into a single office, without broad campus support for a “culture of caring,” limits efficacy (Goldrick-Rab). A culture of caring is exactly what the CU Denver Food Pantry brand needs. My interests in sustainable development drive my passion to create a movement of social justice with this project. Food insecurity is an issue of equity, especially considering the demographic disparities in those most affected by basic needs insecurity. While brainstorming, I thought of a possible Food Pantry partnership touchpoint. The new CU Denver First Year Housing and Student Commons / Dining Hall is being constructed across the street to Food Pantry in the Student Wellness Center. This provides the perfect opportunity for the food waste or surplus from the Dining Hall to be donated to the Pantry. Chris Herr in the Sustainable 2

Campus Program (SCP), already established a composting agreement with the new Dining Hall, so he led me to his contact to see if it can be implemented. I used to use the food pantry before and after its transition to the Wellness Center, so I already have an understanding as to what it is like to be in the mind of the user. I began my brand audit with an observational overview of the Pantry to gather insights from my experience. The Pantry is located on the third floor of a relatively new building, the Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center. It operates through shopping style distribution and is managed in a staff / employee model. No demographic information is required for use, and users are limited to 10 points of food items weekly. Most items are canned beans, tuna, and vegetables, as well as dry pastas as some snacks. The pantry has a very strict sole partnership with Food Bank of the Rockies who provides donations on a volunteer basis or if bought, but the majority of goods comes from Staff, Faculty and Student Government initiated food drives. A SWOT analysis was performed on the CU Denver’s Food Pantry as part of an audit to assess the current brand strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Weaknesses of the pantry include its inconvenient location, which is difficult to access due to a lack of wayfinding. There is also a lack of presence and personality for the food pantry. The website contains minimal information and provides users with no mission, vision, values, or logo. Not only that, but there are minimal marketing materials for events, donation opportunities, and brand awareness provided online and in person (CU Denver Food Pantry). I will note however, that the website has been updated with new information since the observational research and brand audit was recorded, and efforts have been made to improve some signage. There is inconsistency in communications from employees to users, leaving people with misinformation that gets passed around. The food pantry has no formal name. One user called it the “food closet” while I was observing user behavior and interactions. The pantry could provide students with reusable bags, so they don’t have to walk out with canned food and noodles in their hands. It would also be great to see other food resources available to students posted in or around the Food Pantry. A key strength of the CU Denver Food Pantry is its affiliation to the Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center. The Pantry is made stronger by associating itself as fulfilling a dimension of wellness within the buildings otherwise mainly physical attributes. Its association with wellness is not a differentiating factor, as the University of Florida already used this approach in their Food Pantry rebrand to address food-insecurity with less stigma. The CU Denver pantry location being on the third floor in an obscure corner with no signage is certainly a weakness, but wayfinding is the creative solution to that. The best thing for brand architecture is for the Food Pantry to be established as a sub-brand under the Wellness Center’s brand, which of course, operates all under the CU Denver identity system. Students in the CU Denver community already associate themselves as being part of the Lynx community. I tested various brand names on 10 students, resulting in the favor of the name Lynx Food Pantry rather than Milo’s Food Pantry. The name “CU Denver Food Pantry” with the Universities official logo received the most negative reactions as students found it overused and too academic for the service being provided. Key opportunities for the panty lie within its potential for partnerships. A partnership with CU Denver Housing and Dining could eliminate food waste and feed so many student in 3

need. More untapped potential lies within the ability to enhance its online presence for greater brand awareness under the Wellness Center’s already established social media pages. Wayfinding is an essential component of accessing the food pantry, as students have reported it feeling isolated and hidden from the rest of the Wellness areas in the building. Brand identity and user experience areas of opportunities as well. The other two College’s on Auraria Campus also have free food pantries available to their students. A comparative analysis was made to see the similarities and difference among branding and marketing strategies. As the audience for the CU Denver food pantry is directed specifically for those in the CU Denver community, the other pantries on campus are not competition. Metropolitan State University of Denver’s online presence was by far the strongest and positions itself as “aligned with additional resources on and off campus that promote the overall well-being of the students” (Roadrunner). They got their story of college food insecurity on news channels and have mobile food pantries begging to help their cause. MSU Denver’s Roadrunner Food Pantry is in a highly visible location and uses vibrant imagery of fresh food to attract students. Their experience comes with a free reusable bag and sometimes other free MSU Denver swag. Alternative food assistance is made available to users through heavily used signage. The Community College of Denver by far had the most impressive selection of food quantity and quality among all three pantries on campus. They partner with an organization called We Don’t Waste who provides most of their donations. I have reached out to We Don’t Waste about also partnering with CU Denver. CCD’s position is promises nothing different than other pantries or food banks by saying it provides “access to meals and non-perishable items at no cost” (Food Pantry). What the pantry does well is known its audience and target them directly through signage reflecting the brand personality. When users experience the CCD pantry they can immediately see posters for options to alternative food assistance, as well as mantras and support for food justice and equitable service. They provide users with a “7 Day Menu for Less Than $5”, so students can meal prep at extremely low costs with food currently available in the pantry. They also provide highly nutritional low-cost meals for people who don’t know how to cook on a budget, and take into account annual user survey results to actively keep up with the needs of today’s college student through a series of statements they call “Commitments to Our Community.” A Snack Station is provided to students in various CCD building locations across campus as a tangible touchpoint and inspired me to test the design of a snack installation as well. Existing brands who worked well in creating public awareness around their cause, and in doing so, limited social stigmas include Thistle Farm: Love Heals, The GrowHaus Denver, Dove – Real Beauty, Always: Keep Going #LikeAGirl, and the Swipe Out Hunger campaign. What these brands all have in common is their ability to take key consumer insights and create successful campaigns that shift perceptions and influence behavior by appealing to emotions with empathy. In each case, the language and tone used is distinctive to the target audience involved and the message or position being conveyed. With a subject as sensitive as basic needs security, it is pertinent to consider how users are targeted and communicated to in the Food Pantry strategy and identity. An exceptional case study of a branded university food pantry is University of California Berkeley’s Food Pantry. They have their hours, upcoming events, how to 4

contribute, resources, contact, about, announcements, team, partners, background, and testimonies all is one website. Their website maintains live updates during the COVID-19 pandemic, and consistently provides a map detailing the Pantry’s location. A logo, brand story, and positioning statement are made visually available upon entrance into the site (UC Berkeley). Staying on task and being realistic with own expectations for this project proved to be difficult. Thankfully, three professional experts assisted my process. Haylee Jordan, a CU Denver digital design alumni is a brand strategy and design expert. Haylee helped me narrow my communicating focus to the target audience from a strong position and consistent brand strategy. It was difficult to decide on whether or not my solution was to create the most feasible brand in regard to following the existing CU Denver brand identity, or the most creative and ideal brand for the target audience’s needs. The sweet spot was deciding to address the current position of the CU Denver Food Pantry, and then reposition the brand as a visual design solution for users. Rian Kerrane is the CU Denver sculpture program area head and was my installation professor during the development of the interactive survey installation. She is interested in testing some ideas I have had for tangible touchpoints including a light-weight wooden snack tower installation, and events table designs. We had even discussed a pop-up or mobile-food pantry, as well as hydroponics farm similar to CU Boulder’s campus. On the subject of College food security, Coby Wikselaar is a Harding Fellow in the CU Denver Political Science Department specializing in Student Hunger and Homelessness. She helped me develop concise and unbiased questions for the interactive survey installation and directed me to various food pantry case studies as reference. With all of the research above, the next step was positioning the Food Pantry in the marketplace. Considering that the rebrand is happening because of the stigma associated with food-insecurity, is it important to address that in the Dominant Selling Idea (DSI). Haylee and I worked back and forth via email to create an ideal positioning statement using her expert knowledge, digital materials like her brand checklist, and a skillshare video on crafting a brand position that sells (Bad Bitch Branding). Books like “Positioning,” by Al Reis, and “Why Johnny Can’t Brand,” by Bill Schely and Carl Nichols Jr. were especially helpful as well. Once the position is secure, all of the visual brand identity elements must be informed by the DSI, and remain cohesive to the brand’s mission, vision, and values. For the visual process the fourth edition book “Designing Brand Identity,” by Aline Wheeler has been my primary resource. Following the brand strategy to create the visual brand design will be where all the research comes to fruition. All of the items in Haylee’s brand checklist will be completed by the end of this project (Jordan).


Bibliography Bad Bitch Branding. Creating a Profitable Brand: Craft a Unique Selling Proposition That Sells! | Haylee Jordan. Skillshare. Accessed Dec. 2019 Brené, Brown. "Listening to Shame." YouTube, Ted Conferences LLC, 16 Mar. 2012, “CU Denver Food Pantry.” University of Colorado Denver | Wellness and Recreation, Higher Learning Commission, Accessed 5 Nov. 2019 "Food Pantry." Community College of Denver, Office of Student Life, 18 Feb. 2020, "Roadrunner Food Pantry." MSU Denver Dean of Students, Metropolitan State University of Denver, 1 20, Sack M.D., David. "5 Ways to Silence Shame." Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, LLC, 13 Jan. 2015, Accessed 2 Feb. 2020. Goldrick-Rab, Sara, et al. “College and University Basic Needs Insecurity: A National #RealCollege Survey Report.” The Hope Center | For College, Community, and Justice, The Lumina Foundation, 2019, Accessed Jan. 2020. Jordan, Haylee. “The Brand Checklist.” Accessed Jan. 2020. PDF file. Ries, Al, and Jack Trout. Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind. McGraw Hill Professional, 2001. Schley, Bill, and Jr. C. Nichols. Why Johnny Can't Brand: Rediscovering the Lost Art of the Big Idea. 2nd ed., WidenerBooks, 2010. UC Berkeley Food Pantry – Battling Food Insecurity and Malnourishment, UC Berkeley, Accessed 2019. “2018 #RealCollege Survey Report For Denver Survey Participants.” Hope4College, The Hope Center | For College, Community, and Justice at Temple University, Sept. 2018, Accessed 10 Nov. 2019.


Wheeler, A. Designing brand identity: A Complete Guide to Creating, Building, and Maintaining Strong Brands. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2006. Zein, Aseel E., et al. “Why are Hungry College Students Not Seeking Help? Predictors of and Barriers to using an On-Campus Food Pantry.� PMC, National Center for Biotechnology Information, 25 Aug. 2018, Accessed 10 Nov. 2019.


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