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.” In 2018 the Hope Center recorded forty percent of students at the University of Colorado Denver as food-insecure. 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 this resource available to all, the question was posed as to why there is still such a high rate of food insecurity on campus? 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. I conducted an interactive survey in the form of a modular installation designed to gather quantitative data around student participation and perceptions of the food pantries on campus.
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.
Design Thesis Research Question
How might branding principles and techniques be used to alleviate the stigma of food insecurity at CU Denver in order to encourage hungry college students to increase their use of the university’s food pantry?
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, transgender, low-income, 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. A target user persona was developed from real food pantry users. All of the brand strategy will be based upon this persona.
Key User Insight
"I don’t think about it, and that’s a problem. There is no presence, no promise, no heartbeat. I went in blind and it left me with no expectations."
"How a brand is perceived affects its success, regardless whether it's a start up, a non-profit, or a product"
// Alina Wheeler, author of Designing Brand Identity
Dominant Selling Idea
"The Lynx Food Pantry breaks down the social stigma of food insecurity while diminishing feelings of shame." This DSI appeals to student's emotional sense of security, and will be reinforced by the brand personality, identity, and touchpoints.
Core messaging includes the tagline, mission, vision, and values of the new brand. "A right turn when you're hungry," is the tagline. It appeals to peoples emotional sense of security by validating their experience and saying they can never be wrong by accessing the food pantry is they are hungry. The mission of the Lynx Food Pantry is to provide you with shame-free food assistance and increase food security at CU Denver. Our vision is to expose the social stigma associated with food insecurity so that you can feel better about getting food that will feed your mind and body. Our core values include: respect, inclusion, discussion, bravery, and holistic wellness.
Psychologists and world renowned researchers say that shame at it's essence is a fear of disconnection, and by reconnecting to people, society, and the greater community we begin to feel less alone and more human. Various brand touchpoints were created to help users feel more connected to the Lynx Food Pantry, their community, and food systems. These include partnerships with CU Denver Housing & Dining to donate excess and unused food, educational programs with GrowHaus, signage, product design and a Snack Tower installation. All to help alleviate the stigma associated with food insecurity.
The photos above represent a model of a Snack Tower installation for the CU Denver Lynx Food Pantry scaled by a factor of 1/4. Placed in several offices around campus (CAM office, LynxConnect, Visual Arts Office in the CU Denver building, and the Business School building), these installations would hold fresh fruit, granola bars, and other snack items provided by one our the food pantries partners. All of this is to normalize food as an element holistic wellness (a core value of the food pantries brand), build greater awareness for the service itself, and combat the social stigma associated with food insecurity.
In partnership with the Department of Geography and Environmental Science, the Lynx Food Pantry could start a volunteer program as one of the many wellness events hosted under the Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center. The Department of Geography and Environmental Science practices sustainable farming on a 13 acre farm in Wheat Ridge. Studies have shown that working with the land and knowing where your food comes from is dignifying for humans, connects them to the land and other people, and provides a sense of community and well-being.
The Lynx Food Pantry has unpredictable quantity and quality of food options available. A creative solution to this problem would be to partner with CU Denver Dining Services to donate unused and excess food directly to the Lynx Food Pantry. This is also an opportunity to reduce food waste on campus. Sodexo has been contacted to see if this can be implemented.