Is foodservice catering for sustainable diets?

By : Nick Hughes
May 25, 2016

Putting sustainable food on the menu can help caterers grow sales and profits, finds a new report by Eating Better's members WWF UK and the Food Ethics Council.

Anyone walking into a Pret A Manger in London’s Soho next month to buy a chicken sandwich may end up leaving disappointed. In an effort to meet growing demand for vegetarian and vegan options the sandwich chain is trialling a vegetarian only store throughout the month of June in which meat will be entirely absent from the menu.

If this seems like a radical approach consider that 16% of people surveyed by Populus in a recent WWF-commissioned poll said they intend to eat less meat or give up meat altogether in the next year, a figure that rises to 19% for the influential group of young consumers referred to as ‘millennials’ (aged 18-34). Moreover, over half of young people are more likely to eat out in venues that provide information about where the food is sourced from, and 56% are more likely to eat at a restaurant, café or canteen if meat has been reared to a higher animal welfare standard.

A new report from WWF-UK, Sodexo UK & Ireland and the Food Ethics Council shows that foodservice businesses who meet demand for more sustainable meal options stand to benefit from future revenue and profit growth. But it also identifies a lack of restaurants and other caterers offering menus that are nutritious, affordable and good for the environment.

A perception that sustainable meals come at a price premium is one barrier identified by the report. The reality, however, is that sustainable meals need cost no more than existing meal choices and in many cases can be cheaper where vegetables and other plant-based proteins form the greater share of the plate.

The report attempts to go a step beyond making the moral case for foodservice businesses promoting more sustainable menus by highlighting that there is a strong business case emerging.

Businesses stand to achieve turnover growth by differentiating their product offer and stimulating customer demand for sustainable options.

Profit margins can be improved by making efficiency savings and replacing meat with same or lower cost ingredients, such as vegetables and pulses, even though the meat may be of higher welfare.

And businesses can mitigate future risks from climate change and other external shocks by ensuring the quality and security of their food supplies.

A minority of foodservice businesses are already working to the principles of a sustainable diet, making menu-changes (e.g. shifting from meat- to plant-centred meals), educating staff, clients and customers on the benefits of sustainable diets, and integrating sustainability across their business. But there is much more the industry as a whole could be doing.

By piloting sustainable menus, removing ingredients that are unsustainably sourced, and sharing examples of best practice across the industry, foodservice businesses stand to unlock the long-term value contained within a shift to more sustainable diets and capture the growing number of customers who care deeply about where their food comes from.


Nick Hughes is Food Sustainability Adviser at WWF-UK

Eating Better News and Comment is a space to report and comment on relevant issues and activities.
We also invite guest contributors to contribute articles and opinions. Please contact us with suggestions and feedback.

The blog is written by members of the Eating Better team and external contributors.