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5 eco-friendly trends resonating on campus

Chartwells Higher Ed highlights what college students want when it comes to sustainability and plant-based offerings.
plant-based cafe
Wholly plant-based concepts are gaining traction on campuses. / Photo courtesy of Chartwells

As sustainability initiatives become even more integral to foodservice operations, college dining teams, in particular, are shaking things up in that area.

And that’s largely due to their customer base.

Almost 80 percent of Gen Z consumers eat plant-based meals on a weekly basis, according to Chartwells Higher Ed, which runs dining operations on more than 300 campuses across the country. And not only that; six in 10 are looking to up their intake of plant-based foods, signaling that demands for these sorts of offerings may only continue to rise.

Monalisa Prasad, Chartwells’ national director of sustainability, has named five trends she sees shaping plant-based and sustainability efforts on campus in the coming months. They are:

More entirely plant-based concepts

Step aside, plant-based pop-ups—permanent concepts centered around meatless offerings are taking hold on campuses. Entirely plant-based eateries are now operating at Seattle University, the University of Connecticut, Wayne State University and elsewhere.

Plant-based seafood making waves

Pescatarian diets are getting more popular, Prasad notes, leading to increase innovation around plant-based seafood, including options made from soybeans, kelp, jackfruit and mushrooms. Chartwells will this spring begin menuing seaweed in dishes such as Sea Lettuce and Garlicky Chickpea Bowls and Sesame Rice with Seaweed and Avocado, she notes.

Campus gardens growing in sophistication

On-site gardens will get larger and more complex to align with sustainability goals on campus, Prasad predicts.

The University of Dubuque, for example, recently hosted a sustainable salsa event that not only showcased tomatoes, peppers and onions grown on campus but also sought to engage and educate students.

Clearer indications of climate impact

Diners will continue to demand greater transparency around the environmental impact of what they eat. Last year, Chartwells Higher Ed added climate-impact labels to a number of its menu items, as did the University of Massachusetts.

A recent online study found that climate-impact labels on a fast-food menu lessened the frequency with which participants selected items containing red meat.

Vegan snacks becoming a mainstay

The vegan snack market is currently valued at more than $46 billion, but is set to almost double by 2030, Prasad says, noting that snacks that are vegan or made from upcycled or clean ingredients are gaining traction on campuses.

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