The food service industry and opportunities for “plant-forward” menus

Source: Flickr/ Vanessa Pike-Russell

Source: Flickr/ Vanessa Pike-Russell

We have now sufficient evidence to conclude that high consumption of meat is bad for human health and that of the planet. The food service industry has an important role to play in enticing consumers towards more plant-based diets. To assist the industry, the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard School of Public Health have joined efforts to create Menus of Change:

Menus of Change: The Business of Healthy, Sustainable, Delicious Food Choices is a ground-breaking initiative developed by The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in collaboration with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Together, the CIA and Harvard are working to create a long-term, practical vision for the integration of optimal nutrition and public health, environmental stewardship and restoration, and social responsibility concerns within the foodservice sector and beyond.

Menus of Change holds an annual leadership summit for the food service industry. At this year’s summit, new research was presented that sought to answer these questions:

  • What are some of the most promising ways in which food service operators can both react to changing needs and demands and lead consumers to more plant-centric eating patterns?
  • What gives operators hesitation about making protein-related changes to their menus?

The Culinary Institute of America commissioned Datassential to conduct an industry survey in which 1,013 consumers and 634 operators participated. The survey was conducted between February and March 2015.

The presentation by Maeve Webster is available online, and in the following I’ll highlight some of the results that I find particularly interesting. The charts below are taken from Webster’s presentation.

Consumers and operators agreed (about three fourths of each group) that the food service industry must play a role in addressing broad issues related to public health and the environment.

The research explored the gap between demand and availability of different foods. There was little difference between supply and demand for chicken, beef and egg dishes. But for nut butters, nut flours, legumes and meat substitutes the demand was greater than what was on offer.

Webster3The research found some discrepancies between what consumers are interested in and what food service operators are already offering or planning to offer. For example, more than double the consumers compared to operators were interested in antibiotic/hormone free animal products and the source of the food offered. Smaller differences between both groups were in the demand for high-impact preparations on fruits/vegetables and world cuisine dishes. So these could be meat-free or low-meat options that appeal to consumers and the industry.

Webster1

Webster presented six overall, key lessons from the research:

Webster2

So there are some ideas for the food service industry to make incremental changes towards better health for humans and the planet.


This year’s (Australian) Animal Activists Forum will kick off in Melbourne next weekend (10-11 October). I will be there talking about the ozsheba blog (Sunday 4:15 pm). The program is here.

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