Q1. Why should caterers look to put more plant-based options on their menus?
Andy: Public sector caterers have a duty to lead from the front. Our sector is unique in the breadth and reach of its customer base. We are not only the guardians of the nation’s health and wellbeing, but also that of the future of the planet - we must make changes to protect our planet for future generations.
Caterers are natural innovators and ‘change agents’; they adapt their skills to create menus which meet customer expectations and never more so than with vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Simply reducing meat consumption by a small amount has a great impact on customers’ health and wellbeing and the environment.
Q2. How have you tackled this challenge?
Andy: Embedding a wider choice of plant-based dishes within menus allows caterers to offer better quality meat dishes with the savings made - just a bit less frequently.
We have seen meat-free days like ‘Meat Free Monday’ becoming exceedingly popular and this will continue with the introduction of more meat-free days during the week.
Our suppliers have been incredible and we have been working in partnership with them to create new recipes and products - all plant-based – as well as reformulating current meat-based recipes by adding in more vegetables and pulses and then procuring better quality meat with the savings. So we have a ‘win-win.
We have also looked more to the growing seasons, adapting our menus to be seasonal, which means better and smarter procurement and less impact on the planet. It also shows our support for British farmers, as we should be doing all year round.
Q3. Can savings be made by introducing such changes?
Andy: Savings are possible because some ingredients are less expensive and costs will continue to go down as more plant-based products and innovation come to the fore.
Remember that plant-based foods have been with us for many years, however the real growth as only become prevalent in recent years which means some meat-alternative products may initially be slightly more expensive.
But simply reformulating meat-based recipes has allowed us to make savings which we then invested into buying better quality meat. It’s also worth noting that when we have done this we have kept the same if not improved nutritional value of those dishes.
Within the retail side of our sector. we know customers will pay more for great food. The pandemic as driven lifestyle changes and customers will spend more on dishes that they know are healthier for them and that are making a difference to the environment
Q4. How have you promoted new dishes and menus
Andy: We have made small changes to menus, such as putting plant-based choices at the top of menus, for example, and using icons to show the plant based foods.
Within display fridges we have moved plant based foods to give them a more prominent place in the display. It’s the old adage in retail marketing of ‘eye-level – buy level’. Other ideas include offering meal deals that include healthy, balanced diet items and recipe tasting sessions for our customers – both patients and staff.
In these sessions we have also done ‘blind tasting’ this has shown some interesting results, with customers who would regard themselves as ‘traditional eaters’ being encouraged through this to become more adventures and look out for the plant-based icon on menus.
We also utilised the chef resources of our supplier partners, getting them to come in and work with our chef teams and set up tasting sessions.
Q5. What has been the feedback from customers?
Andy: Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, they love the dishes that are offer and now ask for a wider choice. We are now looking at how we can show the impact on the environment of the dishes we are now producing and I believe having a carbon calculator tool will assist us in delivering that information.
Q6. What’s next?
Andy: Gathering more insight from our customers, to meet their needs and requirements plus looking for continued innovation from suppliers and working with them to deliver this.