Menu transparency still driving college menus

clean eating foodservice trend

From Smucker Foodservice.

On menus, “clean” means a lot of different things, from natural and less-processed ingredients to more holistic concepts such as authenticity, transparency and sustainability. It even touches upon issues such as local sourcing and the humane treatment of animals. There’s also more than a little accommodation for special dietary needs, including gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan.

And make no mistake: It’s changing the face of college foodservice.

According to Technomic’s 2014 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, 60 percent of survey respondents felt that food or beverages described as “clean” were also healthy. Other key words or phrases associated with health included “natural” (cited by 72 percent); organic (65 percent); and real (54 percent). Adjectives such as “preservative-free,” “having no artificial sweeteners,” “antibiotic-free” and “hormone-free” also elicited strong perceptions of health. And in fact, 40 percent of consumers say they are now more concerned about additives in food than they were in 2012. 

College students, in particular, have helped to drive these trends. Technomic’s most recent College & University Trend Report reveals that—in addition to demanding variety, quality, convenience and flexible hours—students increasingly expect foodservice to support the initiatives they care about. These include environmental and social responsibility measures ranging from organic food and on-campus gardens to waste reduction, environmentally friendly food packaging and workers’ rights.

In addition, students seek more transparency in their foodservice options. For instance, at Yale University, in New Haven, CT, exhibition cooking and made-for-you options have become key propositions in both residential and retail venues. “There is a big allure to seeing food made just at that moment,” says Ron Desantis, CMC, director of culinary excellence. “You can’t get any fresher, and the customer can also see what and how everything is being made.”

Concepts such as the new Café Med in Harkness Hall at the Yale School of Medicine are designed to showcase custom-made options like bowl meals, composed salads and whole-grain, rice and noodle entrees.

Plant-based foods are also catching on at Yale, not only because they address the needs of vegetarian and vegan diners, but because they are already a big part of the big, bold, global flavors that millennials are interested in, and because they have less of an environmental impact. Desantis notes that a 15 percent reduction in beef usage represented a savings of more than 48 million gallons of water.

Here are a few ways operators can jump on this trend and clean up their menus:

  • Investigate cleaner-label basic ingredients and prepared items, such as stocks, sweeteners, flour, canned tomatoes or dairy products.
  • Introduce more seasonal items through regular menu changes, LTOs or specials—seasonal is fresh, and fresh is clean.
  • Look for protein items such as cage-free eggs, all-natural chicken, grass-fed beef, sustainable seafood (whether wild or farm-raised) and promote them on the menu.
  • Make sure to identify anything made in house, from salad dressings to beef that’s ground on premise.
  • Call out food sources, such as a local farm or artisanal cheesemaker.
  • If possible, take the ultimate step to transparency by putting food prep on display, with an exhibition cooking, a window into the kitchen or a mobile prep cart in the dining room.

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