Sodexo, one of the world’s largest multinational food service and facility management companies, says it’s noticing a big trend, particularly at its university cafeterias. Plant-based and vegan eating is now as commonplace as any other type of meal preference among university students.
Sodexo’s senior director of health and wellbeing, Nebeyou Abebe, explained in a blog post last year.
“[A]ll Sodexo cafés offer plant-based food choices, and 49 percent of menu items are typically vegan or vegetarian,” Abebe notes.
Seventy percent of all U.S colleges are now making it apparent that they’re offering vegan food. In the past ten years, vegetarian student populations have increased by 50 percent, and the number of vegan students has more than doubled.
Abebe points to its Mindful by Sodexo program, which works with dietitians to develop healthy student meals. “A key part of this project is promoting a plant-based diet, which can improve health and can also be better for the environment.”
And, says Abebe, Sodexo isn’t just giving its students a salad bar or baked potatoes as a token vegan option. “When it comes to plant-based diets, having enough options is important. In doing so we also ensure that vegetable soups aren’t made with chicken broth, or that adding meat to a salad may be an option but it’s not the default choice.”
The company has also recently implemented a focus group at Colorado’s Fort Lewis College in order to better understand the needs and wants of its students. But it’s not just the Millennials driving demand, either. Recent research found that Generation Z, which is now just beginning to enter college, often prefers alternative proteins, and expects its schools and universities to offer a variety of options, which is only going to keep companies like Sodexo on its toes. And don’t count out the teachers and university staff who often dine on campus as well. A growing number of adults are adopting a flexitarian diet approach, opting for programs like Meatless Monday or Mark Bittman’s VB6 (vegan before 6pm).
“Food service operations all over the world are working on ways to encourage customers to make healthy choices,” says Abebe. “The challenge is that just offering a few healthy dishes often isn’t enough to change behavior. To see meaningful behavior change, healthy choices must be easy to make. That means they have to be easy to find in the cafe, and they have to look just as appetizing as their less healthy counterparts. When healthy choices are easier to make, they soon become second nature.”
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