Communal catering after the storm
The pandemic has changed us. What consumers really want.
These days, communal catering means the ability to choose items in stylish canteens, and the food is healthy. That is true of anywhere offering catering: works and school canteens, care homes, hospitals and universities. What impact has the pandemic had on the mass catering industry and what do canteen managers now need to think about when planning current and future menus? We have got the inside track.
Catering and snacks
- At event catering
- In works canteens
- In hospitals
- In rehab centres
- In retirement homes
- Using meals on wheels
Catering options in:
- Daycare centres
Demand for fresh vegetables may have been fairly high before the pandemic but absolutely skyrocketed during it. More and more consumers are getting organic food boxes delivered to their doors and cooking healthy meals in their own kitchens. Canteen managers must take care to provide balanced and varied options. The highest demand is for dishes containing a high proportion of vegetables, pulses and cereal products.
Not to mention, sales of organic food and drink rose sharply during the UK lockdown and have soared by double the rate of non-organic equivalents over the last year .
“Organic farming is a whole system approach that nurtures the soil, biodiversity and our planet,” said Louisa Pharoah of the Soil Association. “The Covid-19 pandemic has meant more people appreciate where food comes from, and with the increased interest in growing veg in our gardens and home baking, there’s never been a better time to talk to people about the benefits of organic farming.”
Alongside this increased awareness of fresh, local produce, people are also more conscious of their meat consumption. The rule is: less meat and on the occasions when we do indulge, then we buy organic.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted how we relate to our food. It has changed consumer habits and it will continue to do so. Canteen managers need to be aware: 11% of consumers buy high-welfare or organic meat. 7% are buying and eating less meat, including processed meat, and are intending to continue this habit even after the pandemic. Consumers have a growing tendency to bring into their buying decisions factors like origins, the environment, fair trade and working conditions. We value our food much more and waste less of it. All of these ethical considerations are applied by canteen customers, too.
There is also an increase in rescuing misshapen organic fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be wasted and selling them to caterers, to works, university and school canteens and to hotels and restaurants. In addition, there has been an increase in major super market chains to reduce this waste, selling these goods as advertised and at discounted rates or by including “wonky veg” in their recipe boxes, juices, smoothies and soups. Conscious consumerism will once again be at the heart of industry trends, with consumers continuing to put their own health, alongside the health of our planet, first. It truly is a win-win for all involved.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner, our three standard meals were practically made extinct by our on-the-go lifestyles. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has revived them – lockdowns and isolation created space for this three-part eating routine to make a comeback, and this time with a focus on more healthy and creative food options.
At the same time, cafés, bars and restaurants have also reinvented themselves, expanding their collection and delivery services and product offerings, including locallly sourced produce and signature dish recipes "cook at home meal kits" for all . So snack meals are still on the menu. There is still demand for these smaller dishes. Smaller options or a range of portion sizes, allowing customers to mix and match, are still a popular choice.
This is a double challenge for canteen managers. Perfect little packages, preferably prepared to personal nutritional requirements, is the dream menu for many canteen customers. That means that companies need to incorporate these miniature meals into their communal catering menus and ideally make them available for collection or delivery.
Leading the way in nutrition research
Hanni Rützler is one of Europe's leading food trend researchers. She is a trained nutritionist and health psychologist and releases a Food Report every year outlining short-term fads and long-term trends in the food service industry. At the start of 2021, she analysed the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on eating habits and the food industry, which therefore tells us about the food service industry, too.
Producing plant-based foods is much less resource intensive than making animal products. This is why more and more caterers are offering meat-free and reduced-meat options.
At Volvo, the Swedish car maker, the standard practice in the canteen is to display the carbon footprint of the food on sale and to minimise it. This has been the case for several years and campaigners believe it is a practice which we desperately need on a more widespread basis.
As early as 2012, WWF released a study entitled ‘Climate change on your plate’ which told us that preparing a kilo of beef mince produced the same quantity of carbon dioxide (CO2) as driving 250 km. This reveals a tangible way that canteen managers can help to protect the environment: cook more meat-free options.
Communal canteens are continuing to offer more variety to cater for consumer needs, alongside offering more environmentally sustainable meals. Operators know that many consumers like to eat meat free so they include environmentally friendly meals in their menus. These options primarily contain sustainable products and exclude ingredients such as beef and pork which release large quantities of greenhouse gases in their production. Making sustainable, healthy, tasty options as easy as possible for people to access and afford, is key for combatting climate change.
Consumer expectations of sustainable, environmentally friendly menus in communal catering are rising. The level of value placed on healthy eating and sustainably produced food has grown. People are buying more carefully and cooking meat-free meals at home more often. Operators of catering companies, chefs and canteen managers need to remain open to new procurement routes to fulfil their customers' requirements. Then, to achieve happy faces in both the dining area and the kitchen, it is not only nutrition that must be optimally balanced. The same principles must be be applied to kitchen processes. The hygiene specialists from MEIKO can help you to manage this expertly. To see how, take a peek behind the scenes in the campus kitchens of two canteens: one in China and one in Germany.