2008 Menu Development Survey: The state of the plate 2008

Ethnic menu items continue to gain popularity among noncommercial foodservice operators.

Veggie volume
According to the survey, 9% of the average noncommercial menu is given over to vegetarian or vegan food items. That figure is up slightly from 7% last year. The biggest jump in vegetarian items is on college campuses, where 15% of the average menu is given over to meatless items; the percentage last year was 10%.

In the other market sectors, the percentages of vegetarian and vegan items are: B&I, 9%; hospitals and schools, 8%, and long-term care, 4%.

When it comes to requests for meatless options, 12% of college customers are asking for them, 10% of B&I customers, 6% in hospitals, and 4% in schools and long-term care.

Trans-fat transition
The noncommercial industry is inching closer to a trans fat-free business, according to our survey. Only 10% of operators polled say they have not eliminated trans fats from their menu items; the number last year was 16%. Virtually all B&I operators have eliminated trans fats from at least some items, while on the flip side, 24% of long-term care operators still have yet to address the trans fats problem.

Regarding specific products and processes, on average 81% of operators have removed trans fats from frying oils and shortening, 57% from salad oils and 35% from baked goods. In addition, 25% say they have stopped purchasing products that contain trans fats.

“We continue to eliminate trans fats on a regular basis,” says Nona Golledge, director of dining for the University of Kansas. “It’s more about when products become available that we look at them, but it is definitely something we are moving forward with in all of our products.”

The local angle
Despite the increasing desire on the part of both customers and operators to do whatever they can to reduce the environmental footprint, sourcing local and/or organic products continues to be a challenge for many operators. Nearly 26% of operators say they are not sourcing any products locally, and 68% say they are not buying organic items. Last year, those percentages were 20% and 69%, respectively. For most operators, availability continues to be the major roadblock.

“We have really tried to push local and organic, but it has been difficult to get products through the regular local channels because there is not a wide enough variety,” says John Barclay, assistant director of nutritional care at Mission Hospital, Mission Viejo, Calif. “We are doing only a limited amount.”

Colleges and universities are most likely to be sourcing local and organic, with only 13% saying they don’t buy local products, and 36% saying they don’t source organic.

When it comes to products, those buying local are most likely to purchase locally grown produce and locally produced dairy items; 57% say they buy produce, 55% buy dairy, 38% buy baked goods and 33% buy meats and/or seafood from local sources.

On the organic side, 22% of operators buying organic source produce, 17% source snacks and 11% source meats/seafood and/or dairy.

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A large part of menuing allergen-friendly cuisine is deciding which gluten-free items to serve.

In particular, college dining hall operators must decide whether to make gluten-free items in-house or to order gluten-free items from a manufacturer. Some factors to consider are: the size of the university, the demand for gluten-free options,and the ability to have separate gluten-free storage and workspaces in the university dining hall kitchen.

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Bill Lacey, senior vice president of marketing at Sodexo, said that Blaze’s growth in the fast-casual sector drove the partnership. Blaze opened its first unit in 2012 near the University of California at Irvine. Its pizzas are flash fired, cooking in under 180 seconds, according to the chain—a selling point for busy customers.

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