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CulinArt puts digital labels in the spotlight at Stony Brook

Jan 20, 2024

Mike Buzalka | Jun 08, 2023

Serving stations at Stony Brook University (SBU) dining outlets now feature Nutrislice Spotlight electronic menu identifiers—also known as digital labels, or "e-labels"—that allow customers to not only view item names, descriptions, allergens (if present), calorie counts and pricing (if applicable), but also full nutritional information and ingredient listings that can be accessed by scanning the QR code on the label. Larger 5.8-inch-wide labels resembling a countertop display present info for groups of half a dozen or so items while smaller 2.9-inch-wide ones identify individual items on display. The devices receive the information via Bluetooth from base stations, each of which broadcasts information to e-labels within a 65-sq.ft. area.

The system was introduced at the start of the spring 2023 semester by Dietitian Laura Martorano, MS, RD, CDN, of management company CulinArt, which operates campus dining at SBU. Martorano worked over the winter break to learn the system, configure it for use at SBU's facilities, and train facility directors on adapting it to their operations. The two main resident dining facilities on campus each have two base stations, 65 small e-labels, and five larger-sized e-labels in use. A retail location uses one base station, 20 small e-labels, and two larger ones. There are 170 total e-labels across the three sites.

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A backend of the system tracks battery life and also lets the dining team know how many e-labels are in use at a given time, how many customers accessed a particular QR code, and other valuable usage data, allowing it to make last-minute changes in real time while eliminating manual printing tasks, reducing printing costs and saving time.

"Printing paper labels three times a day, seven days a week, was extremely time-consuming for the operational team and they were not easily adaptable for quick changes," Martorano explains. "And, once the day was complete, the paper labels were discarded for a new print the next day. With the product and menu changes we had to make because of supply chain issues, there was no other way than to print a new batch each day. I kept telling myself, ‘There has to be a better way!’ The conversion to digital labeling was the perfect fit, especially since we are completely digital for our online menus and menu and station signage with the same Nutrislice software."

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E-labels also make it easier for students to access nutritional information and ingredient listings. Instead of searching for an item by name on their cellphones or a computer, they simply scan the QR code on the e-label and are brought directly to the entry for the specific item.

The e-label implementation is one step toward CulinArt's move to full integration of Nutrislice technology at SBU. Students have already been able to view menus, ingredients and nutrition information via the Nutrislice app or campus dining web site for several years but the Nutrislice Spotlight system brings more functionality to the point of service.

"It brings the right information, right to your guests, right at the items they are browsing," says Nutrislice spokesperson Karla Wence. "You can get hours back in the day by eliminating the time, labor, and tedium spent on labeling and relabeling food items."

Next semester, new digital menu boards will portray the same information in the same way as seen in the app, while the Nutrislice app will expand to allow students to place retail orders online, replacing another app currently being used for that purpose.

"Spring 2023 was a game-changing semester for how we label our menu items within the dining halls," Martorano notes. "I want to make sure the students have all the information they need to make their own decisions on what to eat for the day. The menu experience that students have on campus is very important to me. It allows for a connection to develop between the students and the culinary and management teams. This is the next step towards making the dining hall experience a completely digital experience."

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