Foodservice customers seeking healthy, local meat

Industry News – AM


By Rita Jane Gabbett on 5/26/2009


Sodexo provides dining services globally in college, corporate, government and healthcare facility cafeterias, as well as sports arenas, retirement community dining rooms and a number of other venues.

As the executive chef at Sodexo Canada, Suman Roy has a front-row seat to North American consumer preferences when it comes to protein choices. Meatingplace asked him to share his insights.

What are the most striking trends you have seen in foodservice protein choices over the past six months?

The first is a move toward the healthier protein choices. The biggest battle that needs to be fought is that people are focusing more on vegetarianism. When a guest decides to go the route of meat, the first thing comes to their mind is, “Which is the healthier piece of meat?” Gone are the days when the guest used to choose the fattiest pieces because they were flavorful.

The second trend is that guests are looking at their wallets more than they used to. They are making the conscious decision to not order the Prime Rib or London Broils, replacing it with Flatirons.

We also cannot ignore the fact that our guests are looking for locally raised cattle and poultry as well as organic foods.

What trends are you seeing in the university and healthcare dining service markets?

In our Campus Services division, the protein focus is indeed rotating around healthier options. The number of students opting for vegetarian or fish entrees has increased drastically. The students who are not vegetarian are insisting on the healthier cuts and white meat is being favored over red meat.

Another striking trend that I see is students opting for Halal meat. I don’t think they really understand what Halal is all about or the difference between Halal and kosher, but they have the perception that Halal means that it is healthier or it is the right thing to do.

The students are also focusing on local. They want to know that the beef that I am serving is Alberta Beef and not from any other country. They want their poultry and pork to be from Ontario.

As for the healthcare market, the focus remains on healthier cuts, healthier variety and economical cuts.

What are you seeing in terms of demand for alternative protein choices such as meatless, seafood, and animal proteins such as lamb or alternative poultries?

The strongest trend is vegetarianism. It doesn’t help that there are cities in Europe such as Ghent in Belgium that are officially declaring one day a week as vegetarian day. They link vegetarianism to healthy eating and greenhouse emissions, which increases the number of people going that route.

Fish consumption has increased as well. Lamb has certainly entered mainstream vigorously, due to strong influx in immigration from ethnic cultures. Game or other poultries remains a delicacy, and have not entered the mainstream market.

Within the categories of beef, pork and chicken, have you seen any shift to different cuts or products derived from these sources?

The process of shifting to the value cuts is quite slow in Canada. Though some chefs are focusing on this and trying to create a revolution, it is still not mainstream. The issue becomes one of supply and demand. It is the chicken and the egg story: most of the value cuts are not being produced as there is not much demand, and the demand is not happening as people are not seeing most of the cuts.

What trends are you seeing in preparation preferences, such as emerging types of cuisines?

Sous vide, poaching and grilling are the three preferred cooking methods as they are perceived as being healthy.

As for the cuisines, Indian and Thai have an edge over the others. But Aboriginal (Native) Cuisine is becoming a strong contender. In all these cuisines stewing is the most popular cooking method, so the meats do not have to be prime cuts. The flavors are bold in these cuisines, which tell us that people are not afraid to try new things.