The Future of Healthy Eating: Foodservice and Plant-Based Foods  12/2/2019

Earlier this month, ECRM held two programs in Marco Island, Florida: The Foodservice Healthy & Specialty Foods Program and the Plant-Based Food & Beverage Program.

The week was filled with multiple educational opportunities in which buyer and seller attendees participated in, in addition to their private, pre-scheduled appointments. These included ECRM's Thought Interaction Pod roundtable discussions, presentations from Datassential's Kelley Fechner and the Good Food Institute's Caroline Bushnell. For the university foodservice buyers, we held our annual University Roundtable during which they discussed key challenges and opportunities around campus foodservice operations. Following are some takeaways from the presentations and roundtables.


Thought Interaction Pods
Our TIP, short for Thought Interaction Pods jumpstarted the week at the Foodservice Healthy & Specialty Foods and Plant-Based Food & Beverages Programs. All participants were invited to discuss relevant industry topics in a round table format with fellow industry professionals at the table.

There were five tables, each dedicated to a different topic and each moderated by an attendee or ECRM team member. Participants chose a table topic on a first-come, first-served basis, sat for a 30 minute discussion, then selected another table for a second discussion.

TIP Discussions

Table 1, led by ECRM’s Faith Dover, discussed what brands and retailers are doing today that truly help drive traffic to stores. A hot topic discussed was staying ahead of the trends. Retailers have to keep things different in order to stand out. 

Table 2, led by ECRM’s Kevin O’Rourke, discussed sustainability and recycling. The question presented to the table, “As we see more and more retailers taking a stance on sustainability, what changes are still to come?” The supplier must consider their audience when creating their packaging. Their consumers want not only what is best for their bodies, but also the environment. 

Table 3, led by Caroline Bushnell of the Good Institute, prompted the question, “What does the future of Plant-Based Foods & Protein look like? A common answer was cleaner ingredients that consumers understand. Another topic was the idea of more blended products for the Flexitarian consumer such as a burger with 70% beef and 30% mushrooms. 

Table 4, led by Alfredo Macias of California State University held conversations about the most popular diets millennials want to try. He asked, “How are you implementing this into your Campuses, Restaurants and/or Retail locations?” 

Table 5, led by Michael Staseff discussed the top foodservice trends. Trending conversations were about going green and customization.

Lastly, Table 6 was led by Kelley Fechner of Datassential. The table held discussions about bringing Plant-Based to market and what is trending in the industry. 

Evolution of Healthy Eating 
The meaning of ‘Healthy Eating’ has evolved from its initial emphasis on low calorie/low fat or Healthy 1.0 to Healthy 2.0 that focuses on feel good terms such as natural, sustainable and local. We have ventured even further into Healthy 3.0 with a focus on functional foods like CBD and hemp.

One of the big trends over the past two years has been focused on plant-based foods. Kelley Fechner, Director of Customer Solutions at Datassential reviewed the best way to menu plant-based items and look forward to what Healthy 4.0 will bring. Have you heard of Ian the chicken? Click here to view Kelley's presentation to learn more about the future of meat. 

Kelley Fechner, Datassential

Winning with Plant Based Foods
Plant-based foods are a booming business. In fact, these products are a key driver of growth at grocery retailers nationwide, growing over 5 times as fast as total food sales. Caroline Bushnell of the Good Food Institute presented data to understand the market size and growth, category trends, and consumer insights.

She also looked at what this means for merchandising and marketing strategies to help suppliers and buyers win with plant-based foods. “Plant-Based Foods is a consumer shift, not just another fad,” she noted in her presentation.

Caroline Bushnell, Good Food Institute

Among the Good Food Institute's findings:

  • Plant-based consumers spend 61% more than the average shopper
  • 79% of millennials eat meat alternatives
  • 54% of consumers are trying to reduce meat based consumption. 
  • Flexitarians are one-third of the market
  • Consumers want to find plant-based meats in the meat department of their grocery store
  • Language matters! “Plant-Based” speaks more to consumers than “Vegan”. 


University Roundtable 
The roundtable discussion during the Foodservice Healthy & Specialty Foods Program gave university foodservice buyers the opportunity to collaborate, network and discuss key challenges, trends and topics facing our industry today.

Five discussion points that buyers all had in common were student worker retention, food insecurities, rise in plant-based foods, decline in soda consumption/Coca-Cola contracts and allergy-free meal stations. Buyers exchanged stories, how they handle certain situations and what works and what doesn’t at their campuses. 

University Roundtable

Highlights from ECRM's Foodservice: Healthy & Specialty Foods/Plant Based Food & Beverage Programs


Lindsey Virden

Marketing & Design Manager

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