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Menus of Change: Top Issues Shaping the Foodservice Industry

Tue, November 15, 2016

What is guiding the direction of the restaurant and hospitality industry in the year ahead? It’s a mix of opportunities, risks, and the increasing pace of change as healthy, delicious, and sustainable meals become increasingly important to business success. This comes at a time when the dining public is both increasingly interested in where food comes from, what’s in it, and how it affects our health and the health of the planet. This also comes at a time when diners are spending an increasing share of their food dollars to defer more choices about what they eat to foodservice companies and culinary professionals.

This past month, members of the Menus of Change Sustainable Business Leadership Council and Scientific and Technical Advisory Council weighed in on what they saw as the key risks and opportunities facing our industry as well as the ripest areas to focus our efforts in the year ahead—particularly those where menu, recipe, and purchasing decisions can make a big difference.

This upcoming year’s Menus of Change efforts, including the 5th Annual Leadership Summit taking place June 20-22, 2017, will focus on three key issues:

Food Transparency and how foodservice operators increase our ability to see into our supply chains and share information with diners about the food we provide in a personally relevant context. That information should include where food comes from, how it is produced, and its nutritional value. We also want to increase operators’ ability to use transparency to act on their company’s values, and to deliver better business results by allowing both culinary professionals and customers to:

  • Know if our food, our pantries, and our supply chains include unwanted ingredients, forced labor, GMOs, antibiotic use, or other practices;
  • Source foods responsibly and from specific farms, growers, and producers;
  • And improve local sourcing efforts.

How Culinary Professionals Can Change Consumer Choices, Attitudes, and Behaviors to more frequently select healthy, sustainable, and delicious meals, especially plant-forward offers. Strategies may include:

  • Introducing new ways of eating and framing dining concepts and food experiences (formats, ingredients, choice architecture, and so on);
  • Providing better ways to educate busy chefs and operators on how to communicate complex, often science-based health and sustainability topics;
  • Leveraging culinary techniques and delicious, innovative menu concepts to change the choices our customers make.

What’s Next for Protein, as we continue our focus on reimagining the role of animal proteins in American foodservice, reducing red meat consumption specifically, and elevating both the availability and quality of plant-forward dining. As Menus of Change heads into its fifth year, we’ll begin to document the State of Change in the plant-forward dining trend that we helped to catalyze, and take deeper dives into new aspects of protein production and new patterns of consumption such as:

  • Determining how much protein is "enough?" How do we increase "protein literacy" among chefs and their customers?
  • The implications of a rapid move to serve less beef and more chicken, along with changes in the livestock industry;
  • The case for grass-fed and pastured production: how the evidence aligns with consumer perceptions and marketing strategies;
  • Plant proteins including manufactured and scratch-cooked;
  • Best practices for moving animal protein from the center of the plate to enhance the role of other ingredients;
  • Plant- and animal-protein blends and pairings;
  • Along with a selection of great culinary approaches for plant-forward dining, highlighting new strategies ranging from upscale independent restaurants to non-commercial foodservice.

All this is also meant to help our industry better navigate the array of near-term risks and opportunities identified by the two leadership councils.

The risks to our industry remain similar to those in past years. Top risks include the lack of sufficient visibility in our supply chain to manage a host of environmental and social risks and well as share information with our diners. Alongside that risk is the changing nature of consumer attitudes and expectations about the food we offer. And the greatest risk remains climate change,where increasing drought and severe weather are already affecting food costs and quality in unpredictable ways, while the industry overall is moving too slowly to change and adapt to this “new normal.”

Meanwhile, the top opportunities for our industry to make health- and sustainability-related change continue to be speeding the evolution of consumer attitudes, as well improving both the consumption rates and production methods for fruits and vegetables as well as both animal- and plant-based proteins.

The need for our industry to continue to address an ongoing set of risks and opportunities speaks to the importance of Menus of Change. This initiative provides our industry with a long-term focus on a set of issues that take time to address, and where the decisions our profession makes about recipes, menus,and operations stand to dramatically improve our health, the health of our planet, and of our businesses.


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