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60 Second Interview with Paul O'Dowd | Plant-Based Week

17th May 2021 - 10:32
Paul O'Dowd, regional executive chef with ISS UK Food Services, is the latest chef to be involved in our 60 second Q and A session.

Why should caterers look to put more plant-based options on their menus?

With plant-based diets continuing to rise in popularity thanks to their many benefits, many parents who decide to cut or reduce animal products in their own diets are keen for their children to do the same.
Increasingly, children themselves are choosing vegetarian and vegan diets and many prefer animal free dishes for cultural reasons, so it’s vital our offer is inclusive and supports their needs.

How have you tackled this challenge?

We have been actively increasing the amount of plant-based dishes on our menus; many schools have a plant-based dish available every day and the majority also have an exclusively plant-based day once a week which is entirely vegan friendly. Our range of salads and desserts have also been updated to include more plant-based options.

Can savings be made by introducing such changes?

Yes and no. Pulses and lentils tend to be a cheaper protein alternative to meat, which in turn will drive costs down. On the flip side, vegan cheeses and milks can be considerably more expensive.
We are keen to offer variety across our menus, so if children don’t like one dish, they will be willing to try another. We like to experiment with different vegan products and include them across our menus, so it’s not always a cheaper choice.

How have you promoted new dishes and menus?

We create menu flyers for parents and pupils which showcase each term’s choices. Our autumn 2020 menus featured a segment on plant-based, which introduced the benefits and highlighted all the vegan friendly dishes on our menus – making it a clear and easy option.
In secondary schools we’ve created a concept called Feed Your Eco! which is a completely plant-based range and includes snacks, hot dishes, drinks and more. Its launch was delayed by the pandemic but we’re using Plant-Based Week to relaunch it with taster dishes and events in schools.

What has been the feedback from customers?

We’ve already had lots of positive feedback on the elevated availability and visibility of plant-based on our menus. Our virtual Green Fingers school sessions linked to Plant-Based Week are oversubscribed, so we know there’s an appetite for more engagement with plant-friendly food education, which is fantastic and something we’re eager to continue momentum with.
We held secondary student feedback sessions in early 2020 to find out what was important to them when it came to their school food and they requested more plant-based dishes. Feed Your Eco! was born and we’re excited to see how it’s received over the coming weeks and months.

What’s next?

We need to continue to showcase the benefits of plant-based, using school food as an opportunity to encourage and educate. There are lots of people already excited about plant-based, but some need a little more convincing!
We’re focusing on making vegan food cool, translating trends which are popular with adults so they work for children and young adults too. It’s also getting that message of balance across – you can still eat meat but why not consider eating less of it and trying some of these delicious plant alternatives instead?

For more information on Plant-Based Week, click here


Written by
Rebecca Saunders