Colleges and universities offer plant-forward menus

Operators cater to demand for meatless and reduced-meat options

black bean burger
Photograph: Furmano’s

From Furmano’s.

Plant-based dining is continuing to gain momentum, and consumers in the college and university segment are especially receptive to dishes that help them reduce their meat consumption.

Millennials and Gen Zers are seeking to cut back on eating meat for multiple reasons, including concern for animal welfare, the environmental impact of meat production and the health benefits of a plant-based diet. In fact, more than two-thirds of diners — 68% — choose a vegan or vegetarian dish because they perceive it as a healthier option, according to Technomic’s 2017 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian report.

Operators that appeal to this growing demand have the potential to not only drive increased sales and satisfaction from their guests, but also trim their ingredient costs by reducing the use of more expensive meat proteins. By substituting meat-based dishes with flavorful bean-based alternatives, such as in this recipe for meatless burgers, or by offering dishes that combine meat and plant-based proteins, operators are also providing their customers with high-fiber, low-fat alternatives that are rich in minerals.

Expanding plant-based options

A growing number of foodservice operators in the college and university segment are rolling out vegan and vegetarian menu options, adding “Meatless Mondays” to their dining schedules and taking other steps to place plant-based proteins at the center of the plate for their customers.

Philadelphia-based Aramark, for example, recently unveiled a raft of plant-forward menu options for the start of the school year at its higher education accounts, along with expanded efforts around sustainability and menu personalization.

“Consumer demand for quality, health, convenience and personalization drives every stage of our menu innovation process,” said Erin Noss, a spokeswoman for Aramark. “Our chefs work hard at developing approachable, familiar plant-forward dishes that meet our consumers’ varied lifestyle and dietary preferences.”

Other new plant-forward dishes offered at higher education accounts this fall are trend-forward ethnic offerings such as a curried vegetable lentil stew platter, chermoula roasted vegetable plate, chimichurri roasted carrots and potato & kale enchiladas.

Technomic’s Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian report finds that 59% of consumers eat meatless meals at least once a week, with about a quarter of younger consumers doing so two to six days a week. With new vegetarian options offered up, Aramark can ensure that college and university foodservice operators have the tools they need to give patrons what they want.

“Our goal is to provide high quality, appealing, on-trend selections that taste great and make it easier for our guests to make healthier choices whenever they dine with us,” said Noss.

Variations on traditional favorites

Operators are looking across dayparts for opportunities to increase plant-based menu options as well, including breakfast. As far as minimizing costs, Noss said Aramark’s focus is “always consumer first, with the goal of increasing quality and exceeding consumer expectations.”

“Our consumer-focused approach means offering a variety of choices at a market-driven price, to ensure we can provide the choices consumers are looking for across the spectrum,” she said.

It’s clear that offering a variety of flavorful, plant-forward menu options will benefit both operators in the college and university segment and their customers.

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