Learnings were plentiful at FoodService Director’s annual gathering of industry professionals. Here are some FSD's editors gathered during the 2019 event’s final two days.
1. Sustainable agriculture going mainstream
In a session on sustainability, Ferd Hoefner, senior strategic adviser for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said he expects to see major federal climate change legislation in 2021 or 2022. And he believes those changes could have a major impact on sustainable growing practices.
Climate change is “a great boon for sustainable agriculture,” he said, yet he noted that sustainable farm practices can lead to more labels, certifications and processes for operators to manage.
“It’s confusing; it’s hard to keep track of,” Hoefner said.
2. Composting best practices
University of Michigan’s composting program has helped the university divert food waste from landfills at a rate of 31%, according to Keith Soster, the school’s director of sustainability. However, he acknowledged the difficulty of keeping trash and other items out of the campus’ composting bins. Contaminated compost bags have to be moved to the landfill, hurting sustainability efforts.
Soster said attaching signs to compost bins to show what should and should not be disposed of there has helped. He also recommended putting lids on the bins, which creates an extra step for users that can help prevent contamination.
3. Affording sustainability
Implementing sustainable practices, such as compostable packaging and from-scratch cooking, can mean higher food and labor costs for operators. But there are ways to counteract some of those increases, Soster said.
The University of Michigan has begun offering more small plate options in its dining halls, a move that has helped reduce waste and labor with the kitchen producing less, he said. And though switching to compostable packaging was expensive, it gave the university a chance to consolidate its packaging supply. Before the switch, the university’s nine dining units had a combined inventory in the thousands, Soster said. Going to compostable packaging across the board allowed dining to narrow that list down to 200 products.
4. Flavorful salt alternatives
A K-12 chef from Georgia offered up a way for operators to add more flavor to dishes. James Jabbarr, chef for Clayton County Public Schools in Jonesboro, Ga., said his program uses dry ranch seasoning on everything from greens and corn to fries. “We use it as our sodium profile,” he said during a roundtable discussion of K-12 operators, noting that “the flavor profile is exceptional” and still fits within dietary guidelines. Jabbarr said this flavor hack has earned him the name “Dr. Ranch” in his district.
5. Getting sustainability buy-in from staff
Soster said University of Michigan’s chefs have bought in to the school’s sustainability initiatives—and have even come up with their own ideas. One way the dining program has been able to drum up new practices from staff has been to highlight team members and their sustainable ideas on posters. “Everyone likes their picture on a poster,” Soster said.
6. Don’t call it ‘healthy’
Better-for-you descriptors such as “fresh,” “made from scratch” and “real” are especially effective at driving sales, according to research presented by Technomic’s manager of consumer insights, Lauren Hallow. Meanwhile, the word “healthy” can be a turnoff to today’s customers, noted Seth Grant, associate director of culinary services and business operations for Eskenazi Health, during a panel discussion. Grant said the healthcare system has been adopting more of a “stealth health” approach.
It got rid of signage promoting options as healthy and won’t necessary call out a vegan lasagna, for example, as being vegan. “The last thing we want to give them is something unappetizing,” Grant said, noting that the operation nudges diners toward healthy choices with lower prices and other strategies.