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Big issues and bold solutions transforming global food culture

Food

Big Issues and Bold Solutions Transforming Global Food Culture

Consumer preferences are shifting to sustainable and culturally conscious nutrition. Change is happening. Real, measurable change.

Our relationship with food is at a tipping point. Global awareness around key issues is on the rise with environmental change, food safety concerns, and health and wellness right at the center of the conversation. Consumer preferences are shifting to sustainable and culturally conscious nutrition. Change is happening. Real, measurable change.

Younger generations are trailblazing. Both at work and in wider life, an informed and galvanized mindset has emerged since the turn of the millennium. It’s far reaching. Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, and with the eyes-wide-open Gen Z taking its first steps into the workplace, the socially conscious workforce is mobilizing.

Subscribe to Work ReimaginedWith awareness, comes action, and the story of this booming consumer transformation is no more obvious than in our meat-eating habits. GlobalData’s 2017 Food Trends Report highlighted a massive 600% increase in veganism in the US alone in just three years.

Our food habits affect the world around us. Big issues such as meat consumption, food waste, and agricultural and transportation practices aren’t localized—these are global habits causing global issues. The consequences impact us all, and as the demand for change grows, so does corporate accountability. It’s our responsibility as leaders, employers, and as humans, to participate in the movement towards a better food future for everyone.

Half of all consumers aged 18 to 34 want the ability to substitute animal protein with plant-based alternatives. 
    - Technomic's 2019 Center of The Plate: Seafood and Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report

Rethinking corporate food culture

Food culture is changing, because people are changing—their values, priorities, and perceptions. As employee demand shifts and sustainability pressures continue to grow, business leaders must steer this change from the inside, promoting positive food behaviors throughout the organization.

There are three core trends in food innovation that should be at the heart of corporate food strategies. Incorporating these trends can ultimately help organizations support long-term transformation.

1. Plant-powered palates

Woman with avocado“Once upon a time, the word vegan was a bit of a culinary joke associated with nut roast and lentil curry. But now, vegan is one of the most appealing food trends,” says Lloyd Cecilio, Sodexo’s Senior Director, Culinary Innovations Service Operations for North America.

Oxford University reported in 2018 that ‘avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on the Earth’. In fact, concerns around the environmental effects associated with excessive livestock farming have grown considerably in the public thought space over the last two decades. It’s a shift that’s paved the way for new measures and radical policies, as countries look to rebuild their relationship with food.


39% of American consumers are working to incorporate more plant-based foods in their diets. Nielsen

The Chinese government released new dietary guidelines in 2016 with a target of cutting meat consumption by 50% by 2030. This was partly in response to the country’s surging demand for meat, which quadrupled in just 30 years. However, public perceptions in China are already reforming, with Reuters reporting a fall in meat consumption among blue collar workers.

Bold moves like this are taking place throughout the global community, and the results look promising:

This growth in demand has sparked culinary innovation and ‘plant-forward thinking’, and opened up a new plant-based alternatives market. It’s also driven change in the workplace. From boardroom to lunchroom, people want the option to eat less meat.

Our society is increasingly putting more social capital on animal welfare causes and all companies would benefit from advertising their support of these causes.
    - Carl DeLoye, DropBox

It makes sense to adhere to this trend, not only morally but from a business standpoint too. Organizations can hope to elevate reputation through plant-powered culture, attract and retain top Millennial and Gen Z talent as a result, reduce costly outgoings on meat products, and help to nurture a happy, healthy workforce.

Sodexo has launched new plant-based menus for clients across the Corporate Services, Education, and Healthcare sectors. More than 200 vegan and vegetarian recipes have been developed in collaboration with the Humane Society of the United States and the World Resource Institute’s Better Buying Lab.

2. The health factor

Healthy eating goes beyond ‘eating your greens’—many build their daily routine around it. Diet, exercise and active hobbies can become as much a part of a person’s identity as their career, especially among younger generations who use food choices as a vehicle for self expression. A booming #eatclean culture has developed online, as health conscious individuals connect and share this part of themselves with the world.

62% of global consumers are more likely to purchase foods that have a positive impact on health and wellbeing.

The health factor is another trend being shaped by younger generations. One 2016 PwC study found that nearly half (47%) of the 18-34 age-group surveyed had changed their eating habits towards a healthier diet over the last 12 months, compared to just 23% of those aged over 55.

People are even willing to fork out more for healthy foods. Nielsen research highlights that more than nine-in-ten respondents in Latin America (94%), Asia-Pacific (93%), and Africa/Middle East (92%), and about eight-in-ten in Europe (79%) and North America (80%), are happy to pay extra for foods with health attributes.

Making affordable healthy options readily available in the workplace supports this lifestyle and enables employees to make positive changes. Research also shows a balanced diet can promote good mental health and boost productivity.

Inadequate consumption of nutritious food during the work day has been tied to difficulty concentrating and making decisions, fatigue, sickness, low morale, and greater risk of workplace accidents. By contrast, sticking to healthy foods has been associated with a 25 percent greater likelihood of a high self-rated job performance rating.
    - William Rosenzweig, Co-Chair, Faculty Director at Berkeley Haas Center for Responsible Business

According to Happiness At Work author, Jessica Pryce Jones, the average person spends 90,000 hours at work over the course of their lifetime. That’s 3,750 days—or more than a decade. Chances are that most employees eat at least one meal at work each day and yet, when it comes to corporate health programs, food is often an area that falls short.

Innovations such as smart fridges, healthy vending machines and salad making robots are powering change in this area, and as retailers and restaurants move with the times, businesses must to do the same.

Menu items in Sodexo’s Green & Lean range incorporate two-thirds vegetables, pulses and grains, and a maximum of one-third responsibly sourced meat. Seasonal fruits, vegetables and whole grains are favored, and sugar and salt are added sparingly. And in keeping with the bigger corporate responsibility picture, food waste is minimized.

3. Food waste

Woman harvesting greensWhile plant-based, healthy eating may be top-of-mind for the workforce, behind the scenes, food waste is one of the biggest collective challenges. The United Nations aims to cut waste in half by 2030, after reporting that $1.2tn worth of food waste is thrown out every year.

This widespread throwaway culture is a big contributor to global pollution, with The Economist reporting that: “If the annual emissions from food waste—3.3 billion tonnes—were released by a single country, it would be the third-largest polluter in the world (after China and America)”.

Calls for innovation in this area are at an all-time high. Manufacturers are coming under increasing pressure to improve transit operations, food sanitization, and utilize data to drive production efficiency. At the retail end of the food chain, supermarkets are introducing ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables to their shelves to stem the flow of food waste. UK supermarket chain Morrison’s report that 12% of their customers now buy fruit and vegetable produce from their ‘Naturally Wonky’ range.

“We are just now seeing the innovation curve flex upward,” says Chris Cochran, executive director of non-profit food waste prevention organization ReFED, talking to Financial Times. “We have had less innovation than we wanted to see and less investment to date. We are just scraping the surface of what’s possible.”

Change also needs to come from within business.

The elimination of excess waste starts with grass root efforts, through small shifts in how people and businesses regulate food waste on a daily basis. A study by Unilever revealed that 72% of US diners care about how restaurants handle food waste, and 47% would be willing to spend more to eat at a restaurant with an active food recovery program—findings which clearly translate to workplace dining venues. It’s through internal commitment to long term programs and processes that we can look to transform the corporate carbon footprint.

Sodexo has established a global program called WasteWatch to drive this change. Powered by LeanPath, the initiative helps to identify causes, and defines action plans to prevent waste. Sites implementing WasteWatch can reduce waste by 45% in two to six months.

One-third of food is wasted globally every day. United Nations

Building a food community

Business leaders must commit to providing real world solutions to real world issues. Tackling issues internally is the first step towards a sustainable food future. It’s why Sodexo is driving innovation to empower individuals, businesses and communities around the world.

We’re bringing ingredients to the table that are locally sourced and community driven, and those that support our agenda to raise food standards in our business.
    - John Wright, Senior Vice President Global Food at Sodexo

We’ve reached a pivotal moment when it comes to food production, distribution and consumption. Mass-scale livestock farming, unhealthy diets and food waste have expensive consequences, but they aren’t inevitable. Corporations have a responsibility to become an active part of the solution, and the advantages are clear. Sustainable food culture reduces harm to the environment, supports a healthy and productive workforce, and benefits your bottom line.

For business leaders, the time for action is now.

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April 04, 2019

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