What decides Entropy+ pricing?

The Tartan caught up with Mike Tokarek and Maggie Weaver from Chartwells to talk about the Entropy+ convenience store located on the first floor of the Cohon University Center. Students have noticed inflated the prices at Entropy+, and though Scotty’s Market has been open since the start of the fall semester, students still want fairer prices for groceries across campus.

“Our goal in Entropy+ is to supply the needs of the students at a convenience… for as many hours as possible. From frozen to fresh, prepackaged to bottled beverages, pastries, dietary needs, Nourish items… based on everybody’s preferences," Tokarek told The Tartan. "The priority in Entropy+ is variety.” He expressed that Chartwells’ vision for Entropy+ is that students could come in and get the things they need as quickly and easily as possible.

Pricing might present a barrier to that vision. Tokarek clarified that, at Entropy+, convenience is prioritized over pricing, meaning that some items are more expensive than they might be at a typical grocery store. “We benchmark other convenience stores in the area,” says Tokarek. “We can’t really compete with big brands like Giant Eagle.” Grocery stores typically have a larger variety of items, and each shopper buys many items in one trip. Convenience stores are designed to survive even if each shopper only buys a single item, so items are more expensive overall.

One reason Tokarek gave for high Entropy+ pricing is a general inflation in food prices overall. “That’s just the nature of food right now, just so much in flux,” he said. The Tartan asked about how Entropy+ measures up to other food locations on campus, particularly Scotty’s Market in Forbes and Beeler. “We set prices independently [of Scotty’s Market],” Tokarek said, “We did benchmark some of their stuff and try and match what they can, but again, that being a full-fledged grocery store and their ability to purchase from grocery suppliers is a benefit to them.”

Even beyond Scotty’s Market, it seems that Entropy+ follows different rules than the rest of campus. “We’ve been able to keep our pricing retail around the rest of campus, like Revolution Noodle, Hunan… those prices don’t change,” Tokarek says, “Even though the food prices change… we’d never impact the students with that. But where we’re able to in grocery stores, we have to adjust our prices up to market.”

The reason for this lies behind Chartwells’ food sourcing strategy. Instead of buying from a grocery store or sourcing locally, Chartwells has a larger food purchasing system that involves set products and set delivery methods. “It protects us,” Tokarek says, “in case there’s any kind of allergy awareness, any kind of food recall, anything like that.” He explains that by purchasing from a grocery store, Chartwells loses the ability to ensure that they know about every product recall. If they used a third party delivery service, they would also lose control over what the deliverer does with the products en route to Entropy+. By sourcing internally, Chartwells can stay up to date with each product and ensure the quality of their deliveries. It’s safer, but this process also drives up the cost of the products sold at Entropy+, because Chartwells has to reach agreements with individual food vendors, like Tyson. The vendors ask higher prices of Chartwells than they might of a grocery store chain, though Tokarek said he hopes that margin will decrease to only two or three percent higher than typical grocery stores processes.

He also expressed that there's a limit to how high Chartwells will allow prices to rise before they take items off the shelves altogether. “Last year we had to pull cereal for a little bit, just because we were paying almost eight dollars a box.”

It seems that Chartwells will continue to charge higher prices for some items in order to ensure convenience and safety of the products we buy on campus. However, Tokarek expressed hope for some improvements at Entropy+, even a system where students could swipe ID cards, get food items, and leave without having to check out a cash register. For now, students will have to decide which campus food locations have the best value, even as pricing conditions continue to change.

Sophia Levin contributed reporting for this article.