New demand drivers pose game-changing opportunity

07/18/2014 10:30:00 AM
Tim York

Tim York, Markon CooperativeTim York, Markon CooperativeSocial responsibility? Local sourcing? “Clean” food?

What starts out as a niche driver of demand often grows into a meaningful aspect of a business’s go-to-market plan.

Millennials are changing the game with sustained demand for transparency, more adventurous menu options, and values that are aligned with environmental protection (defined broadly).

These younger diners are fast outpacing baby boomers in dollars spent, meaning who we are and what we say and do as companies has never been more important to our ability to survive and thrive.

What’s more, over the past couple of decades, chefs have become celebrities, and food has become a dominant pastime. In short, people are obsessed with what they eat.

This puts us in the driver’s seat — if we are able to shift some of our ingrained business models, the growth opportunities are huge.

At the recent Menus of Change conference jointly presented by the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard School of Public Health in Cambridge, Mass., a group of top scientists and researchers shared data that drove home these opportunities and encouraged all of us in foodservice to take more action to align with new demands and grow business.

The experts translated the data into bite-sized perspectives we can all leverage to some degree while continuing to offer customers what they want and how they want it.

Here are a few of the Menus of Change insights I feel are most applicable to the produce world.

Globally inspired, plant-based cooking: Chefs are being asked to increase produce presence by 10% each year over the next five years.

Let’s be there to meet this demand by offering a wider range of fruits and vegetables. Some say okra is the next kale, but cauliflower, cabbage and rhubarb are also getting delicious makeovers. It’s truly anyone’s game.

Meat in a supporting role: More and more chefs are realizing the power of using meat as a condiment, to their customers’ health and the health of their budgets.

Promoting seasonal flavors (ramps and peas in spring, tomatoes and corn in summer, potatoes and onions in fall, and citrus in winter) can easily shift the focus of any dish.

Evolving scientific consensus: One year, butter is enemy No. 1; the next, it’s clearly preferable to alternatives. Whether dealing with lard or carbs, studies touting what’s in or out are often disproved at a later date, but one thing is for sure — fresh produce is always the right choice for healthy consumers and the environment.


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