A conversation about plant-based menus, marketing and more

As hospitality professionals, this group will tell you that they put the customer first when planning menus, devising new concepts, ordering food, posting on social media…everything involved. in managing an on-site catering operation.

Examining the data on what customers want, combined with experiencing real-life scenes in the dining room, will easily show that more people are starving themselves meat more often. Don’t label them as vegan or vegetarian because they might still appreciate a stray piece of bacon here or there or a cheeseburger from a cow once in a while.

In the book Our Changing Menu: Climate Change and the Foods We Love and Need by Michael P. Hoffmann, Carrie Koplinka and Danielle L. Eiseman, two of the authors conducted a survey which found that “two-thirds of respondents expressed a level of concern that climate change would affect their food choices.

A recent study of Generation Z by Y-Pulse showed that a majority of this younger generation consider themselves “meat eaters who like vegetables”.

We brought together a small group of three restaurant veterans – two on-site chefs and a sustainability manager who is also a chef – to take their temperature on how the plant-based philosophy is turning into an action plan. winner based on plants. These chefs have lived and served through the popularity of low-fat diets, Snackwells cookies, the Atkins craze, paleo and more. Where food modes are generally going out, many catering professionals seem to find that new ideas and intersections around plant -based diets are less restrictive and more inclusive, which leads to real endurance. Read on to chat with April Word, Sodexo Regional Director of Sustainability, Dave McHugh, Executive Chef of Point Loma Nazarene University, and San Diego Unified School District Leader Juan Zamorano.

How did you and your customers view plant-based food 15 or 20 years ago?

“Before, it was seen as something that a very select group of people would do. Almost elitist and unaffordable. Additionally, some people thought that eating plant-based would rob them of good nutrition and that they would have to sacrifice satiety and flavor. -Juan Zamorano

“Nowadays, plant-based options are more of an exception these days. It’s no longer an oddity not to have animal products in mixed salads or sides. I remember asking guests what they were doing when they were slicing a dish and they asked, ‘Where’s the meat?’” – Dave McHugh

“There is definitely a growing awareness and growing consumer demand for a wider and better selection of plant-based options. I think there is a better understanding that what we eat impacts not only on our health, but also on the health of the planet. People are looking for climate solutions and are beginning to understand that their daily food choices can be part of it. I also think that technological innovations in recent years have introduced plant proteins into the mainstream in a whole new way, instead of just having the tofu option like it used to.” – April Word

Do your customers want to be labeled “vegetarian” or “vegan” and in turn have menus labeled as such?

“I think only 4-5% of Americans identify as vegetarians, but that number jumps to almost 15% among college students. On the other hand, over 35% of college students identify as flexitarians, which , in my opinion, is a useful term. I’m a big fan of the term reducer because it suggests that no matter where you are on the spectrum, you can make choices every day to reduce your consumption of animal products. -Word

“Our K-12 customers know what they like and pay little or no attention to whether the food is considered vegetarian, plant-based, plant-based, or vegan. If they like pizza in general, they are more likely to have any type of pizza, including cheese pizza, which is vegetarian.” – Zamorano

“For many students, the daily expectation is fresh, quality food that’s unique and flavorful, with no sugary, sticky sauces automatically added.” – McHugh

Let’s talk menu! What plant-based menu items have you had success with?

“Some of our most popular plant-based products are Three Bean Chili, Eva’s Avocado Salad, Veggie Burgers, and Truitt Dipper and Veggie Plate. But defining success is a complicated thing when it comes to herbal products. It can mean different things to different people. For us, plant-based success means educating our students to make healthier food choices. – Zamorano

“Whenever our vegan cauliflower taco station is offered as a special event, all managers automatically arrive at the station to help with the preparation and execution. Fresh corn tortillas with hand-made pico de gallo and guacamole, it’s a hit and we’ll be serving 450-650 an hour for the entire lunch service! -McHugh

At Point Loma Nazarene University, the cauliflower taco pop-up sells hundreds and hundreds of plant-based tacos per hour.

“Big hits on multiple campuses are fried cauliflower tacos (see above), jackfruit carnitas tacos, and plant-based pizzas. We have just started rolling out the Incogmeato Chick’n Nets and these are a hit even among the meat-eating students. They love it when plant-based dishes offer great flavor and texture. It also helps where there are familiar or comforting elements. It’s one thing to step out of your comfort zone in some way, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to embrace a whole new way of eating.

How do you let diners know if an item is plant-based?

“In most cases, we would communicate the same as any other entry. An honest description with a hint of marketing pixie dust. Describe the cooking method used, describe the origin of the dish and describe its journey to our table, while describing how appetizing and tasty the food is, due to the herbs, spices and texture. – Zamorano

“Our standard signage will indicate whether an item is vegetarian (no meat products), vegan (no animal products) and/or plant-based, which is essentially vegan, excluding honey and sugar. white, which are products that some strict vegans avoid, but many less strict diners will appreciate.”—Word

“A few semesters ago, we saw that our vegan program needed improvement. As a result, we have created a new station for all guests. Students now head to the chef’s vegan station, or they can make a vegan salad first at the salad bar, then head to the station for plant-based toppings and add-ons. -McHugh

“Fake meats” have become very sophisticated lately, but recent financial reports from the Wall Street Journal show a plateau effect, perhaps due to customers asking, “Is it really healthier?” and “How is this article handled?” What do you think of these products?

“I think there is room for both. Beyond Meat has definitely been a game changer in terms of popularizing plant-based alternatives and popularizing the very notion. That said, I kind of disagree with the idea that we need solutions that present a 1:1 sub for meat eaters. The average American eats about 55 lbs. of beef per year. I don’t think I’ll go to 55 pounds. “fake meat” is a real solution. We need to shift to a more vegetable-based diet at all levels. I’m also hesitant to rely too heavily on a product that essentially supports the current monoculture farming system. I don’t think our solutions can rely on industrial corn and soy alone; we also need to focus on how we treat the land in the process of growing these crops and moving towards systems that support more biodiversity, not less.

“I don’t mind fake meats being part of a recipe playing a supporting role, but serving them as the main component of a dish isn’t something I’m too excited about. I’m a little worried about the sodium content, preservatives, artificial colors, and the amount of processing that goes into making some of these products. – Zamorano

“It’s very relevant. Based on our students voting with their picks, we saw a noticeable change from preformed fake meats. Having the flavor and consistency of meat (teeth and mouthfeel) remains much less important for those who have long since decided to give up meats. Victory is when your flexitarians imbibe. More often than not, a phrase I hear from guests is, “I couldn’t even tell if there was meat or not…and it doesn’t matter!” – McHugh


Meat Me Halfway, a book and film by documentary filmmaker Brian Kateman, explores the idea of ​​simply eating less meat and becoming a “reducer”.

We have to ask ourselves: is plant-based food more than just a fad?

“Oh yeah! We strongly believe that plant-based cooking styles are here to stay and will continue to have a growing presence on our menus. best cooking techniques, recipes and training continue to bring the plant-based style closer to traditional cooking.” – Zamorano

“It’s definitely more than a flash in the pan. As a company, we want to be part of the climate solution and we know that what we choose to serve can play a huge role. That’s why we’ve pledged that 42% of our menu offerings in the campus segment will be plant-based by 2024, up from 27% currently. This goal is linked to our broader goal of reducing our carbon footprint by 50% by 2025. We invest time, resources, training and menu development to ensure this is not simply from a fashionable fashion. Our customers pay attention to the state of the environment and see the impacts of climate change with their own eyes and they want to do something about it. So we try to support their choices by providing knowledge and a delicious range of herbal options to choose from. The truth is, the planet can’t sustain our current meat-eating habits, so we can’t afford it to just be a trend.

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