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Top on the Menu in 2015

Fri, December 12, 2014

What are the key issues for chefs and foodservice executives in the year ahead? What are the most significant risks over the coming months? And where are the best opportunities to succeed in the business of serving healthy, sustainable, and delicious food?

These are the questions we again raised this fall with the Menus of Change Sustainable Business Leadership Council—composed of chefs, executives, and investors, chaired by Arlin Wasserman, partner at Changing Tastes—and with the Scientific and Technical Advisory Council, made up of leading academics in the fields of public health nutrition, environmental sciences, agricultural economics, and business, chaired by Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the Harvard School of Public Health—Department of Nutrition. The answers to these questions have created the foundation for the program design for our upcoming June 2015 Menus of Change Conference.

As in past years, both business and scientific experts identified similar key issues for the culinary profession and foodservice industry.

The top issues for the coming year are:

  • Understanding the gaps between current consumer attitudes and values, aspirations for change, and actual behavior
  • Addressing the risks for operators posed by climate change, water constraints, the continuing global obesity/diabetes-led public health crisis, and emerging shifts in policy
  • Enlisting the media to help catalyze a new conversation about the role of proteins—from both animals and plants—in our industry and on our menus
  • Harnessing culinary and business insights, paired with marketing and communication strategies, to move consumers toward more plant-forward menu choices

The councils saw climate change and limited water resources as the most significant risk over the next year, while taking greater steps to accelerate changes already underway in the behaviors and attitudes of the dining public represents the greatest opportunity.

The more extreme and unpredictable weather events, such as the multi-year drought in California, are causing farmers and ranchers to further deplete water resources, mirroring troubling trends across the globe, where unreliable harvests lead to more volatile prices for food. Less certain harvests—including for crops like corn and soy that are used for animal feed—are pressuring production of both proteins and fruits and vegetables.

While dietary research shows that we should increase our consumption of fruits and vegetables and other healthy plant-based foods, a rising chorus of high-protein messages can create confusion in the minds of consumers. Here, culinary professionals can use skill and creativity to help rebalance our plates and diets with a flavor-rich, plant-forward approach that fully addresses optimal protein needs. And in the kitchen, they can give greater professional recognition to chefs and cooks who principally work with fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, and whole grains.

The new emphasis on ways that our profession can refashion what diners eat and how they think about food comes in part from the growing influence of information technology on our food choices, as well as new research findings. Studies suggest that the design of dining rooms, food experiences, and menus can change what people choose to eat. At the same time, culinary professionals are finding success in menu changes that follow divergent strategies: either invisible (or incremental over time) or dramatic, emphasizing growing appetites for culinary adventure and experimentation.

Over the dates of June 17-19, 2015, the CIA and Harvard School of Public Health—Department of Nutrition will host the third annual Menus of Change leadership summit at The Culinary Institute of America’s Hyde Park, NY campus. The conference will be based in the CIA’s new, state-of-the-art conference center, The Marriott Pavilion.

At the 2015 summit, culinary professionals will gain skills and knowledge to become change makers and reshape plates, dining habits, and the ways their companies and organizations manage risk and leverage opportunities. Click here to learn more and register.

For further insights into the work of this initiative, we invite you to explore the key issues and insights in our Menus of Change 2014 Annual Report.


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