College campuses are cultural centers for snack cuisine, and with two new stores, snack culture is only growing at the University of Wisconsin.

A college campus is only as good as its snack culture. In a normal year, students and locals are out every weekend, hopping restaurants and bars. Students pack their studying and breaks between classes with crackers, cookies, chips, fruits and drinks. Regardless of the occasion, a college campus’s local and chain convenience stores thrive within the community. UW is no different.

The UW campus has a number of supermarkets, convenience stores and mini-marts to choose from. In Madison, it started with a few local convenience stores like Stop & Shop, which eventually made way for bigger chains like 7-Eleven and Walgreens. The university even has its own string of “Badger Markets” all across campus.

With the arrival of online delivery, companies like EatStreet offer snacks that cater to customers’ cravings. Some services, like goPuff, have opened up for snack delivery specifically and are a big hit in college towns.

This academic year welcomed two new convenience stores that are projected to turn the market upside down. These are DGX, Dollar General’s modern rendition of their classic store, and J&P Fresh Market, a smaller version of the Asian superstore southwest of downtown Madison.

While fierce competition brews among these shops, they all contribute to the community’s thriving snack culture.

Local and university convenience

Madison’s collection of convenience stores serve both locals and students with their everyday snack and supply needs. Stop & Shop is a classic spot on State Street that offers quality food products and mini-mart supplies that downtown residents utilize. It’s an older building, but its handful of aisles are always stacked with products.

They have a few coolers with drinks ranging from milk to alcohol. Stop & Shop is also equipped with coffee brewing and a microwave, among other things. For those with nicotine cravings, the little store has a selection that may rival Knuckleheads.

Other shops like Triangle Market and Madison Food Market offer the same products and services as small businesses. While these local convenience stores can be considered the foundation of the Madison snack industry, other more modern alternatives have set up shop in the city.

These are the Badger Markets of campus. With seven total and possibly more on the way, the Badger Markets are built for the “young professional” of the UW. They are located in many popular UW buildings like Ingraham Hall, Chadbourne, Biochemistry, Engineering and both unions.

The stores are a part of the Wisconsin Union network and offer conveniences that every student can grab in and out of classes. According to the website, most Badger Markets have “gourmet coffee, daily hot lunch entrees, soups and chili, grab-n-go sandwiches and wraps, salads, snacks, fresh bakery items and an assortment of beverages.” They also sell school supplies and have a small selection of other convenience items.

The menus usually stay the same across the board, so students know what to expect when grabbing lunch entrees or soups, and university staff make all deli items and baked goods. They have all the amenities of the local convenience stores and the modern vibe of the popular downtown chains, but the biggest difference is Wiscard accessibility.

Students, staff and employees of UW can use their Wiscards to buy products at a discounted price. On top of that, the Badger Markets are the best option for members of the campus community due to their close vicinity to education buildings.

But with the pandemic, a majority of classes have been moved online and most students spend their time at or near their homes. Badger Markets have lost significant revenue from this dip in business, and even with the increase of in-person classes this semester, it’s difficult for them to compete with the grocery and convenience stores in the downtown area. 

As international student and snack aficionado Dimana Koleva says, the Badger Markets just aren’t convenient when students aren’t on campus.

“I used to grab a snack or coffee at Ingraham every day, but now I don’t have any classes over there,” Koleva said. “Stop & Shop is close to my apartment and it’s pretty much filled the void for me.”

Even then, these businesses have earned some real competition with the arrival of two new mega convenience stores in Madison. One is a modern, revolutionized idea from a well-known company, and the other caters to a demographic whose choice of snacks, and overall community, have been underrepresented. The first is DGX Madison and the second is J&P Fresh Market.

DGX

Dollar General is an American chain of convenience stores that started in the 1930s. Known for their low prices, thrifty college students can benefit from having one nearby.

DGX sits next to The James, in a convenient location downtown. DGX’s products range from toiletries to fresh food and gift supplies and has a slushie machine as well as a coffee bar. But the most impressive part of the store is its broad snack selection. 

When Koleva first stepped into the store, the variety of options amazed her.

“Convenience stores with fresh foods and snacks are becoming such a trend,” Koleva said. “But DGX’s location makes it a better option for a lot of students.”

While Fresh Madison Market is the central grocery store, DGX provides more affordable options than its expensive competitor. Festival Foods also has cheaper prices, but it’s much farther away from both the campus and downtown areas. And to top it off, the local convenience stores don’t have the large selection that bigger stores like DGX provide. It’s a massive new addition to the downtown culture and it is sure to affect local businesses as their consumer bases may choose to shop there.

The store is still relatively new, but it already has a large amount of business made mostly of students and what DGX claims are “young professionals.” Their ads feature younger people with backpacks and school gear and/or professional clothing in motion. These target customers are students and employees on the go who need modern amenities and fresh produce to keep up with their busy lives. DGX even designs the checkout lines to make picking up products fast and simple.

DGX is sure to bring some hefty competition to the stores around them, and even online delivery services. Students and locals alike now have a snack giant in their vicinity to fuel their everyday activities and fun.

J&P Fresh Market

The J&P Fresh Market is an Asian supermarket on the west side of Madison, providing residents access to fresh vegetables and meats for hot pots and stews, delectable snacks and other popular Asian food items.

They recently opened a second mini-market on State Street, and immediately when you enter, you might notice that the shelves are not stocked with your usual potato chips or soda — you might see bins of bok choy, fridges with kimchi and shrimp-flavored chips.

Before J&P, the only way for international students to get a taste of home would be to drive off campus or ride the bus for over an hour.

“We have a huge amount of international Chinese students at UW-Madison,” the store manager for J&P Fresh Market said. “There’s also no Asian store in downtown Madison, so we opened the store for the community, to serve the community and to provide this service for students.”

Having opened only a month ago, there’s a lot of potential for J&P Fresh Market. Despite not providing delivery services yet, customers can browse the store for selections of fresh produce, meats and other food items that they would not be able to find at another grocery or convenience store in downtown Madison. Another unique feature of J&P is that they take custom orders when customers are not able to find something in store.

The J&P Fresh Market experience creates a sense of community that can’t be found in other bigwig convenience stores and snack delivery services. And unlike most downtown stores, J&P offers a membership opportunity and a point system. A dollar is one point, and if you spend $100, you get $8 of in-store credit.

It’s also a space for customers to ask questions and voice concerns to the store manager directly. Customers can join a WeChat group, which is updated daily with news on what’s being restocked and what’s available at the market.

Customers can even request items and the J&P staff will consider adding them to the store. The market is doing data research on what snacks are the most popular to meet the demands of the students, reflecting another level of attentiveness to what the community needs at this time.

This convenience store is not only an important hub for UW’s significant population of international students but also all Madison students and downtown residents who will now have quick access to all sorts of Asian cuisine and snacks.

“I’m really glad that there are a lot of American customers to come in and shop around,” the store manager said. “And I can tell there are more local people [that will] come to the shop in the near future.”

goPuff and other delivery services

With the addition of these two stores, Madison’s snack industry has been turned on its head. DGX’s location puts it ahead of places like Kwik Trip and grocery stores. Its cheaper prices provide an alternative to the higher prices at the two Walgreens locations, and though 7-Eleven and DGX are similar in build, the latter is sure to cut into the former’s profits.

J&P Fresh Market alone offers a special experience unlike most stores in Madison. It caters to a community that previously required long commutes to get a taste of comfort and home. J&P offers what the American chains and local convenience stores can’t, and in this way, it will cut into their business.

Delivery services may also be affected by their entry into the market. Companies like EatStreet, DoorDash, Chowbus and Grubhub are mainly for restaurants and are likely to go unaffected. But goPuff, specifically for snack delivery, could be severely impacted by the new competition.

Aside from snacks, goPuff offers everyday essentials with 30-minute delivery. The snack service started on college campuses and came to Madison in 2017. Their target market is college students, but similar to Dollar General, they are including customers related to “the young professional.” Communications Manager Brigid Gorham explained how goPuff has expanded to suit the new customer base.

“We’ve broadened our product category offerings and now offer baby and pet products, a wider assortment of groceries and pantry items, at-home COVID-19 test kits and a new Better For You category,” Gorham said.

Their biggest development this year was in health and wellness. The company has made big moves to help their customers in the pandemic, even donating thousands of masks to UW-Milwaukee students. They’ve also partnered with vegan NBA player Chris Paul to promote plant-based foods and connect with Black-owned businesses. 

With the cold weather, students like Koleva use goPuff to get snacks and other commodities. The pandemic has also made the service convenient during times of social distancing. 

“goPuff has made quarantine so much easier,” Koleva said. “I don’t have to worry about going out and maybe getting exposed.”

A marketing strategy that also seems to put them ahead is their use of active college ambassadors. In warmer weather, students can find tables for goPuff and chalk messages throughout campus. They are constantly looking for more students and drive partners to help push their business growth, offering flexible and well-paid experiences.

goPuff is a great service for campus snack culture, but both J&P and DGX offer a much cheaper alternative. goPuff is still delivery, which adds an extra cost. DGX offers many of goPuff’s options and more at an affordable price and a convenient location. And again, J&P caters to a specific market in Madison that goPuff just can’t compete with. 

The glue of the college experience

Regardless of your go-to snack provider, they all offer the same thing — a feeling of community. Food is a way students and locals come together to celebrate and reflect on life in and out of Madison. Whether it’s during a night out, studying or hanging out with friends and family, Madisonians use snacks to fuel their everyday interactions. They are arguably the glue of social gatherings and celebrations within the college town. Imagine your parties, tailgates, study sessions and hangouts without your favorite foods.

With the addition of shops like J&P, these shared experiences centered around food have become even more inclusive.

“80% of the customers are international students and because we just started this business, we’re doing something special,” the J&P store manager said. “We opened the store for the community, to serve the community and to provide this service for students.”

Colleges wouldn’t be what they are without these small servings of food. Because wherever there are snacks, there is fun, there is energy and there is community.