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Created in collaboration with food-service experts, WRI’s new playbook is designed to enable the already-rich-in-expertise industry — so adept at marketing and selling foods — to help diners choose healthier and more sustainable, plant-rich options.
UK fast-food lovers can now choose a plant-based Whopper from Burger
King. Okay, so it might not be suitable for vegans or vegetarians (the
soy-based version of the famous burger will be cooked on the same grill as meat
burgers, according to the fast food chain). But the so-called Rebel
is another example of the food service sector attempting to sate the appetite of
diners keen on reducing their personal contribution to climate change by cutting
down on their meat consumption.
One of the world’s biggest restaurant chains, Pizza Hut, did something
similar in the UK late last year, adding a plant-based
(“pepperphoni”) to its extensive menu.
Giving people a reason to choose the more environmentally sustainable thing on
the menu when they are out and about is at the heart of a new campaign launched
by the World Resources Institute (WRI). It points to the fact that, per
gram of protein, beef production demands 20 times more land and emits 20 times
more greenhouse gas emissions than producing plant-based proteins such as beans,
peas and lentils.
It has just launched a playbook to give companies across the food service
industry some pointers on how to encourage customers to choose more plant-rich
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“Shifting diets towards more plants and less meat, especially beef and lamb, is
critical to achieving a sustainable food system,” Daniel
Vennard, director of WRI’s
Better Buying Lab, told Sustainable Brands. Given that vast numbers of
people that regularly eat away from home, the food-service sector has huge role
to play. In fact, it is “uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in
helping people make better food choices.”
highlights 23 behaviour-change strategies that have emerged in recent years —
designed to shift diets for those dining out. They are presented in five
categories: product, placement, presentation, promotion and
people – the 5 ‘P’s.
When it comes to product strategies, WRI wants to see more restaurants upping
their game, modifying plant-rich meals to make them more appealing. This might
involve offering a bigger variety of plant-rich dishes, adapting existing
recipes to reduce the meat content, adding better tasting and visually appealing
plant-rich options, or making changes to food packaging. The playbook offers up
examples, for each category, of where such changes have had an impact — here are
just a few:
Product: When the University of Cambridge switched up the menu at
three of its on-site cafés and doubled its vegetarian options, veggie dish
sales increased by 70 percent, and meat sales decreased.
Presentation: WRI ran a trial with US-based restaurant chain
Panera to find out whether
simple language changes on its menus and signs could influence sales of one
of its plant-rich options, “Low Fat Vegetarian Black Bean Soup.” Panera
worked with WRI to develop more appealing names for this dish, eventually
opting to test “Slow-Simmered Black Bean Soup,” which showcases the flavor
and care taken in preparing the soup; and “Cuban Black Bean
Soup,” to highlight the dish’s heritage. While diners were apparently unmoved by
the “slow-simmered” aspect of the soup, the item’s new Cuban identity led to
a statistically significant 13 percent increase in sales — highlighting the
importance of the right language when promoting plant-rich dishes.
Placement: Seattle Pacific University doubled the size of its plant-rich
food station and rebranded it as “Avant Garden” to also appeal to meat
eaters. In the semester following the changes, sales from the station
increased by 9 percent.
Clearly, relatively easy changes to the way plant-based options are presented
can have a big impact. The same can be said for promotion strategies which focus
on optimizing prices and marketing for vegetarian and vegan options.
Of course, the behavior of the people working in food service is also crucial.
Hilton’s “10 Days of Burger”
used videos to train chefs on how to make a reduced-meat burger with mushrooms
blended into the beef. The new blended burger now features widely on Hilton
menus around the world.
So, how is the playbook likely to be used across the sector? Vennard says that,
rather than suggest a business tries to implement all of the 23 interventions at
once, they choose the approaches that make the most sense to them.
“That said, we are finding that a few interventions — such as increasing the
variety of plant-rich dishes, increasing the relative number of plant-rich
dishes on offer, and ensuring those dishes have a superior flavour and
— are critical,” he adds.
The huge environmental impact of meat consumption is well-documented. And the
food service sector has an important role to play in enabling dietary change. In
the US, spending on dining out represents about half of the average consumer’s
food budget. In the UK, people spend around £1,000 a year on eating out.
Created in collaboration with a number of food experts and those working in the
sector, the playbook is designed to enable the already-rich-in-expertise
industry — so adept at marketing and selling foods — to apply its capabilities
to help diners choose healthier and more sustainable, plant-rich options.
“Many companies are simply unaware of the best strategies for helping their
consumers make better food choices,” Vennard says. “Our research has unearthed a
range of low-cost, high-impact strategies that food service companies can use to
shift diets. And many companies we’ve spoken to say a transition towards more
plant-rich diets is both good for growth and their bottom line.”
Published Jan 13, 2020 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
Tom is founder of storytelling strategy firm Narrative Matters — which helps organizations develop content that truly engages audiences around issues of global social, environmental and economic importance. He also provides strategic editorial insight and support to help organisations – from large corporates, to NGOs – build content strategies that focus on editorial that is accessible, shareable, intelligent and conversation-driving.