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ESS increases plant-forward options across military

17th May 2023 - 08:31
ESS has been expanding the number of plant-based options it offers to service personnel across the 250 military establishments it supports.

The Defence, Marine and Aerospace sector of ESS, part of Compass Group UK & Ireland, delivers catering and a range of other FM services to MoD sites in the UK. Last year it served more than 12.4m meals within its defence business.

And with the introduction of a new menu last autumn, ESS added over 70 new plant-forward recipes to its food offer. It says the dishes are healthier for customers, better for the environment and still look and taste as authentic as they did before.

Plant-forward is the name given to the Compass Group UK & Ireland commitment to health, wellbeing and sustainability. To be considered as plant-forward, the meat content of each dish has been reduced by at least 30%, with the total protein content being maintained or, in many cases, increased.

How has this been achieved?

Senior chefs from across the ESS business reviewed the company’s existing menu and reengineered all suitable recipes, replacing a proportion of the meat with a plant-based alternative.

The team looked at the make-up of every meal and trialled various plant-based proteins and ingredient combinations to preserve the essence of the original dishes. They considered key factors such as presentation, flavour and texture, ensuring the new range looks appetising and tastes great.

Each recipe was then analysed by the company’s nutritionists to confirm that it met the stringent nutritional requirements of military personnel. Now 30% of the company’s core lunch and dinner offer served in military messes is now plant-forward.

Scott Freeman, ESS culinary director, says: “It’s important that we serve the food people want to eat, as well as providing them with the required nutrients to support their lifestyles.

“Through this project, we wanted to make our customer favourites healthier and better for the environment, whilst maintaining their appeal. In the development phase of this project, I tried out the recipes on family, friends and even the builders renovating my kitchen to ensure they satisfied a range of tastes.”

What have been the benefits?

The new plant-forward range is healthier, with an average 1g increase in fibre per dish and lower fat and saturated fat. More options now meet the company’s ‘Nutritionist’s Choice’ criteria, which educates customers by labelling nutritionally balanced choices at the point of sale.

As livestock currently generates substantial volumes of greenhouse gases, the changes are supporting ESS and the wider Compass business on its mission to achieve Climate Net Zero by 2030, as well as helping the MoD on its sustainability journey.

Leanne King, Head of Nutrition and Wellbeing for ESS, commented: “Our culinary team have really pushed the boundaries of food innovation to maintain or improve the nutritional profile of these dishes whilst still ensuring suitability for a wide range of military personnel.”

Anne Simonnet, director of sustainability with Compass One, adds: “Reducing the animal protein we use is absolutely key and is the action that will have the biggest impact in our journey to Climate Net Zero. To do so in a nutritive and delicious way is something the culinary team can be particularly proud of.”

Vegan and vegetarian offer

ESS has also enhanced its vegan and vegetarian offer to meet growing demand, and 27% of the company’s core defence menu now caters for these dietary preferences. An example is the popular lasagne where vegan mince is combined with butternut squash to create a vegetarian meal that looks appealing and is full of flavour.

As well as supporting the ethical preferences of some customers, these dishes provide substantial health and environmental benefits.

The company is partnering with the MoD Vegan and Vegetarian Network to ensure service personnel have access to high-quality vegan and vegetarian food.

ESS recently announced that 38% of the core defence meals it sold were plant-forward, with a further 7% were either vegan or vegetarian.

Award-winning efforts

And the plant-forward menu recently won the MIDAS Sustainability Award at an event dominated by well-known high street brands.

Bob Gray, ESS Defence managing director, says: “Plant-forward dining is becoming increasingly popular with today’s consumers who are concerned with both their own wellbeing and that of the planet.

“It’s important that we reflect these trends in the meals we’re providing to our military customers. I’m delighted that our chefs have developed this new range of dishes which taste great as well as delivering health and sustainability benefits.

“It’s really encouraging to see that almost half of our core meal sales last month were either plant-forward, vegan or vegetarian which demonstrates that we and our customers are on the journey together.”

Written by
Edward Waddell