A Colorful Alternative To Dreary University Dining

To market! French designer Matali Crasset offers a novel improvement on the college cafeteria: a grocery store.

Something changes when you head off to college, namely your waistline. University cafeteria offerings aren’t all that varied and typically pack all the nutritional options of a mall food court. Alternative on-campus restaurants and food stations don’t fare much better, and you’d be lucky to get so much as a bunch of bananas from the resident convenience store. Venturing further tends to break a student budget. After a few weeks of exclusively subsiding on mediocre pasta, heavily dressed salads, and unidentifiable meats, there’s understandably more of you than there was when you first set foot on campus.


There are a lot of factors at play, but much of the blame can be pointed at a lack of fresh foods and well balanced meals available. The lucky students at Toulouse University in southwestern France have been given a solution to that very problem. They can now food shop at the CNOUS* Mini M, which stocks healthy prepared meals as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. A colorful annex to an otherwise grey student housing block, the micro grocery is a welcome addition to campus life.

The Mini M is a joint project by CROUS, a regional division of its near-identical acronym CNOUS, the French national office of student services, and designer Matali Crasset (who this summer brought a bibliotheque to a dreamy South of France beach).

The prototype is part of a three-prong strategy to tackle student dining, with the market playing a central role in the bid. (The other two models are the Mini R, a new kind of student restaurant that just opened at the University of Orleans, and a more traditional cafeteria.) It fulfills a “real need,” Crasset tells Co.Design, given the mini M’s central location on and the healthy fare it makes available. It’s also inexpensive, by and large the cheapest food option around–more and more a priority for many students, she adds, as prices spike and social services become privatized.

To augment the experience of shopping for the students, without adding time to the process, Crasset developed a simple parti that efficiently subdivides the interior market space. The grocery is split up according to two kinds of food products: aisles grouped under the “Global” umbrella hold canned and preserved goods, while a small enclave labeled “Vital” is stocked with produce.

Shelves are outfitted with brightly painted canopies that recall the feel of French market stands. Rounded hazel-brown pergolas, which Crasset says abstract the form of chestnut trees, hem in the produce stacks. The floor is an intense chartreuse. Market subdivisions are grouped by color, with each zone, such as the cashier counter, a different but complementary hue. The entrance bay is an electric orange that, coupled with the lime green side walls, was designed to “radiate life” outward, Crasset says.

Exterior walls are stamped with a stenciled motif, the same mark that embellishes the store’s bags, developed with graphic design agency Praline. The collaboration with Crasset yielded an appropriately nuanced approach to branding that heralds the market’s mission: Where the campus canteen or fast food outlets are often dreary or cheap-and-quick, reflective of the foods they serve, the Mini M is saturated with fresh, vivid color that enlivens the adjacent buildings and transforms the market into a hub of activity.


For Crasset, the material fabric of the Mini M–which is, after all, just a simple box–is second to the surface treatments, which “spontaneously create a new and confirmed identity” all on their own. Color, she says, is a favorite expressive, universal, and economic way to define a space: “I use color as an ally.”

About the author

Sammy is a writer, designer, and ice cream maker based in New York. He once lived in China before being an editor at Architizer.