The non-commercial (which is actually very commercial) food sector covers K-12 schools, colleges & universities, healthcare, corporate offices and workplaces, and the military.  Those are the big ones. This means it’s worth looking at if you’re in the business of anything food related, because your competitors may not be.

Why “non-commercial?” This just means that, unlike grocery stores and restaurants, these are places where there is a significant foodservice operation as a supporting function to an institution - say a college.  It's a secondary purpose to that institution.  But secondary doesn’t mean small—in fact, the non-commercial food industry makes up 20% of the U.S. food industry, and is growing at 3.7% a year (from Technomic, a leading food industry research firm).

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Kindergarten through Grade 12 Schools (K-12)

These are the lunch cafeterias in your local school districts, from kindergarten all the way through high school. It’s food. And it’s bought from someone, a food vendor. Some of these are run by the school district themselves, and some are outsourced to contract management companies like Sodexo and Aramark. And don’t forget private schools– day schools, boarding schools, and prep schools are another segment in the K-12 group.

College students studying

College Campuses 

This is a big one, because many full-time students, especially freshmen and sophomores, live and eat three meals a day on campus. Large colleges are like little cities, with thousands of faculty, administration, and staff eating on campus as well. So, this is a big food marketplace that is non-commercial.

There are around 4,000 colleges in the U.S., from large public colleges to much smaller private colleges.  About 40% of these dining operations are outsourced, again, to contract management companies.


Large corporate offices and manufacturers often offer foodservice on the premises. This is partly as a benefit to employees, as the prices are often subsidized by the employer, or in some cases, free. This is another large component of the non-commercial foodservice industry. Again, like the others, these dining operations in workplaces might be staffed by the company itself, or more likely the dining services will have been outsourced to a foodservice management company that hires the chefs and other staff, and provides the menus, planning, buying, and more.  You could include large government departments and offices in the workplace category, as well.

Workplace cafe

Hospitals & Healthcare

Large hospitals–actually, come to think of it, all hospitals–have some kind of a cafeteria on premises. And you know they have some other kind of food operation, because they’ve got to provide food to all the patients staying in the hospital.  Plus, they’ve got an army of staff who are in place 24/7 to take care of the patients, and they’ve got to eat too, right?  Not just doctors, but nurses, technicians, and all the other support staff. So hospitals are another great market for the right food product or service.  In addition to hospitals, there are other facilities in the healthcare foodservice sector, such as senior living, and other long-term care facilities.

American flags

The Military

The military is a place where lots and lots of hungry people are eating.  Large military bases have family housing, so there’s some home cooking happening. But mostly our servicemen and women are eating communally in foodservice operations.  Think of what the budget is for this marketplace (department of defense).  Again, a lot of these foodservice operations are outsourced to contract-management companies.


These non-commercial foodservice markets are actually very commercial, in the sense that they are an attractive industry, with large revenue streams.  So as a food and beverage producer, manufacturer, brand, or even a franchised restaurant concept, they are worth learning about, and exploring for your future growth.  To learn more, read our posts about contract management companies, and wholesale-distributors, or our eBook about the industry, here.  And as we provide consulting and marketing services for brands seeking to enter these markets, feel free to schedule a discovery call with us, here.