STONY BROOK, N.Y., June 6, 2023— Dining locations at Stony Brook University now feature electronic menu identifiers—also known as digital labels, or “e-labels”—that allow customers to view item names, descriptions, allergens (if present), calorie counts, pricing (if applicable), and, via QR code scan, full nutritional information, and ingredient listings.
CulinArt Dietitian Laura Martorano, MS, RD, CDN, introduced the system at the beginning of the Spring 2023 semester. Called Nutrislice Spotlight, the system consists of battery-powered electronic signage (“e-labels”), posted at serving stations, which receive information via Bluetooth from base stations, each of which broadcasts information to e-labels within a 65-sq.-ft. area. (It is the same technology used at a major clothing and home goods retailer.) CulinArt uses e-labels in two sizes at SBU: 2.9 inches wide, to identify individual items on display; and 5.8 inches wide, which resembles a counter-top display and presents a half-dozen or so items.
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. At SBU, the two main resident dining facilities 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 2 larger ones. There are 170 total e-labels across the three sites. A backend of the system lets the team know how many e-labels are in use at a given time, remaining battery life, how many customers accessed a particular QR code, and other valuable usage data.
The e-labels allow the CulinArt team make last-minute changes in real time, eliminate manual printing tasks, reduce printing costs, and save time. “Printing paper labels three times a day, seven days a week, was extremely time-consuming for the operational team,” Martorano says, “and they were not easily adaptable for quick changes. 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.”
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 been able to view menus, ingredients, and nutrition information via the Nutrislice app or campus dining web site for several years. Now, Nutrislice Spotlight 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 Karla Wence, a Nutrislice spokesperson. “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, and the Nutrislice app will expand to allow students to place retail orders online, replacing another app used for that purpose.
“Spring 2023 was a game-changing semester for how we label our menu items within the dining halls,” Martorano adds. “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.”