With Greatest Impact on the Foodservice Industry
The Menus of Change® Leadership Summit is a widely anticipated annual event for both the foodservice industry and culinary professionals. Since its launch in 2012, the joint initiative between The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has provided the foodservice industry timely and indispensable information for offering healthy, sustainable, delicious food choices, and an ongoing series of tools and guidelines for foodservice professionals.
For the last three years, the CIA, Food for Climate League, and the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative have commissioned a nationwide survey of 1,500 Americans, facilitated by research firm, Datassential, to probe consumer beliefs, attitudes, and aspirations that underlie the plant-forward trend. The survey highlights are announced at the Menus of Change summit at the CIA’s campus in Hyde Park, NY.
Since the Menus of Change initiative has sparked such significant interest within the foodservice industry, we reached out to Allison Righter, MSPH, RDN, director of health and sustainability programs for the Strategic Initiatives Group at the CIA.
We asked Ms. Righter questions that will give Total Food Service readers a better understanding and appreciation of the positive impact of Menus of Change across foodservice.
1. What is the overall goal of the Menus of Change initiative?
Menus of Change aims to spark new insights and innovative solutions within the foodservice industry to address our most pressing public health and environmental challenges — obesity and chronic illness, and sustainability and climate change. At the core of Menus of Change are 24 principles of healthy, sustainable menus which provide chefs and foodservice leaders guidance for creating recipes and menus that are nutritious, environmentally sustainable, socially responsible, and — most importantly, delicious. The annual summit and related educational resources support foodservice operators’ ambitions to effect change in food purchasing, menu development, training programs, and within the larger food system.
2. Why and how did it get started? Who attends the initiative?
For over 20 years, the CIA and Harvard Chan School have been working together to translate nutrition science into actionable strategies for shifting people’s diets and improving public health. As scientific evidence began mounting on the link between diets and personal and planetary health, our team identified an opportunity to educate the foodservice sector and empower the next generation of culinary and business leaders to effect change in their communities.
The first leadership summit took place in 2013, in Boston, at which time we also released the first of a series of reports, developed in collaboration with leading scientists and business experts from the Menus of Change Business Leadership and Scientific Advisory Councils. The reports provide a snapshot of the food industry’s progress toward health and sustainability goals.
The annual gathering, now held annually at the CIA’s New York campus, attracts more than 400 leaders from nearly every sector of the foodservice industry. The general sessions are webcast live and later posted to the website for on-demand viewing.
3. What are the benefits of attending the summit?
Attending the summit in-person provides an unparalleled inspirational and educational experience for those working to transform the future of food and foodservice in the US and beyond.
The curated sessions cover a range of topics that are critically relevant to chefs and foodservice professionals working to secure the financial viability of their operations while also advancing key imperatives around nutrition, environmental stewardship, and social responsibility.
In addition to these high- impact sessions, attendees participate in numerous breakout sessions that explore the Menus of Change principles in action through culinary demonstrations and Q&A sessions with presenters and fellow attendees.
And, of course, we are the CIA, so, of course, people come for the food! Throughout the conference the meals, receptions, and break functions showcase delicious, globally inspired, plant-forward recipes, which are then made available to attendees after the conference.
All of this, and our stunning campus, which MSN named one of the “50 most beautiful college campuses in America,” make the Menus of Change summit one not to be missed!
4. The Menus of Change began in 2012. Since then, what do you see as its most positive, enduring impact on the foodservice industry?
Since its inception, Menus of Change has been at the forefront of food trends, research translation, and business innovation at the intersection of health, sustainability, social responsibility, and flavor. The initiative has engaged thousands of foodservice leaders and has contributed to a growing inseparability in industry conversations around personal and planetary health.
Attendees tell us that they leave the summit with enhanced knowledge, skills, and contacts to enact meaningful operational changes within their organizations that ultimately trickle down to influencing consumer food choice.
And from the publication of plant-forward industry watch lists as well as the growth of the CIA’s sector-specific collaboratives, including the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative and the Healthy Kids Collaborative, we can see that the Menus of Change principles are being adopted by operators across both here in the U.S. and globally.
5. What was the theme for the 2022 summit? What do you think were the top takeaways from the summit by the attendees?
The core theme for the 2022 summit was making the case for the restaurant and foodservice sectors, still rebuilding from the devastation of the pandemic and related labor and supply chain challenges, to accelerate their efforts in the transition to a healthier, more sustainable, and equitable food system.
With the UN Food Systems Summit and other major scientific consensus reports over the past year calling for urgent collective action to avoid catastrophic disaster, we wanted to bring together people and perspectives to help inspire deeper commitments to act, boldly, and quickly, to tackle these problems.
Key areas of discussion this year included:
- food policy,
- consumer and industry trends in plant-based foods, effective meat reduction messaging and campaigns,
- the role of food procurement and menu strategy in achieving net zero commitments,
- the rising influence of ESG and changing investment patterns,
- and cultivating compassionate and courageous leaders to effect food system change.
Below are three top takeaways:
Making changes to our diets can have immediate effects on our physical health and the health of the planet. Harvard Chan School’s Dean Michelle Williams noted, “Food can be a barrier to human thriving; but it can also be one of our greatest assets…. Chefs and foodservice industry professionals are the tastemakers; the ones with the power to make the food we eat, the food we should eat, the food we want to eat.”
Chef-Farmer Matthew Raiford reminded the audience that there’s no way to have a healthy, sustainable food system without farmers or seed savers. Sustainable means that we see beyond ourselves to the next generations and their health. We need to invite the farmers and seed savers to join these conversations.
This past year produced a flurry of new net zero commitments made by foodservice and hospitality brands and more investors are putting ESG at the center of their business, as summarized by Melanie Levine from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and Akash Mirchandani, Vice President of Kitchen Fund. Foodservice operators can contribute to net zero and other corporate sustainability goals through ingredient and menu choice, procurement strategies that push/pull value chain to reach net zero targets, food waste reduction, and offering consumers engaging and delicious experiences with healthy and sustainable food.
6. Three takeaways from the 2022 Plant-Forward Opportunity Report by Datassential:
Meat is still the top frequently consumed protein, though Gen Z indicates a potential shift away from meat. What’s encouraging is that 21% of consumers are looking to reduce meat – up from 15% last year. Over one-third of consumers are trying to increase whole grains, and more consumers are seeking to increase vegetables and fruits, other plant-based proteins, and plant-based meat or egg substitutes compared to last year.
7. How can chefs and foodservice operators entice the non-Gen Z’s to consume more plant-based proteins and include them in the diet?
Gen Z and millennials are definitely driving the shift toward a more plant-centric approach to eating, but the data show that consumers across all generations are trying to eat less meat and more plants. As chefs do best, focus on flavor first in the creation of any plant-forward menu item and consider enticing menu language that references the taste, look, feel, culture, and/or story behind a recipe or ingredient rather than its health attributes or what it lacks.
Operators can also use promotional strategies that optimize the pricing and marketing of plant-based meals, including participating in weekly behavior change campaigns like Meatless Mondays or Plant-Powered Fridays that can help introduce diners to new dishes one day a week.
People want to feel like they are part of the movement and often need encouragement that small changes can, indeed, make a big impact. Nearly 1 in 5 consumers are already choosing environmentally conscious retail brands, and more consumers are open to trying environmentally conscious restaurants.
8. What specific efforts can restaurants and foodservice do to demonstrate their commitments to the environment?
Chefs and foodservice leaders who care about planetary health and want to engage with an increasingly sustainability-minded dining public have enormous opportunity to do so through raising the visibility and transparency of their efforts, which will, in turn, build trust and loyalty with their customers. Beyond menu offerings and ingredient sourcing, don’t forget about packaging, since most consumers are actively seeking foods with recyclable or compostable packaging.
Taste and affordability are top concerns for consumers to consider plant-based foods.
9. How can chefs and operators concurrently meet these top concerns, maintain financial viability, and focus on sustainability?
These are real challenges with no one easy solution, hence the importance of staying actively engaged on a learning journey, personally and within your organization, to set both short and long-term goals.
One promising culinary opportunity that addresses multiple challenges, as mentioned in the Datassential report, is creating and offering mixed animal and plant-based protein dishes. Using strategies like the “protein flip” or a blended burger, where meat is combined with mushrooms, operators can create craveable, culturally relevant dishes that are more nutritious, climate-friendly, and affordable—a triple bottom line win!
For more culinary inspiration, recipes, and training opportunities, visit www.plantforwardkitchen.org.
For an easy way for foodservice providers to promote plant-based options at any type of organization: K-12 schools, universities, hospitals, corporations, restaurants, large institutions and beyond. For how-to guides, download Meatless Monday how-to guides at https://www.mondaycampaigns.org/meatless-monday/foodservice