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Q&A: Nestlé Targets Plant-Based at University Dining Halls

As plant-based offerings expand across food service, college and university dining halls are a popular target for innovation and experimentation.

Last month, Nestlé Professional announced a new plant-based college dining program in partnership with Wholesome Crave and the University of Massachusetts.

The menu ranges from more traditional vegan fare such as Eggplant Lasagna and Alfredo Tomato Soup to internationally inspired dishes made with meat substitutes, including Chawanmushi with Sweet Earth Breakfast Sausage, and Tres Hermanas Enchiladas with Mindful Chik’n.

The Food Institute spoke with Fleur Veldhoven, vice president of marketing at Nestlé Professional, to unpack this partnership and gauge the outlook for plant-based in the broader food service space.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

What prompted Nestlé Professional to develop this plant-based partnership? 

The Purpose-Driven Plant-Based Incubator was created in response to foodservice providers reporting increased demand for a wider variety of globally inspired, flavor-driven, plant-forward options.

The Incubator is intended to be a space to share insight and knowledge amongst existing and new partners, and to ideate and test new opportunities, recipes, and approaches to successfully accelerate the adoption of more plant-based options.

There is also the ability to inform students and operators about the emissions footprint of their meal via on-menu carbon labeling.

Image courtesy of Nestlé Professional

How do the menu options measure up to traditional meat-based dishes, in terms of cost to the company and the consumer? 

From a cost standpoint, plant-based products are generally comparable to the cost of meat-based products, both for companies and consumers.

The other cost difference worth mentioning is the environmental cost, or rather savings, associated with these products. Not all foods have equal impacts. Animal proteins—especially beef and lamb—are generally more resource-intensive to produce than plant-based foods. More plant-centric eating therefore reduces pressure on forests, fresh water, and the climate.

Helping more people shift toward plant-forward diets can have climate and other environmental benefits. By expanding plant-based and plant-forward menu options in scaled-dining settings, we can all help to build a better, more sustainable future.

Consumer demand for transparency and clean ingredients continues to grow across the plant-based industry. What steps does Nestlé take to ensure that these menu options are nutritious and balanced?

Making sure that what we’re offering is nutritious—in addition to being delicious and operationally efficient—is a priority element of this program. One of the ways we’re doing that is through our partnership with UMass Dining and Wholesome Crave. All three of the founding organizations are like-minded when it comes to our desire to make a positive impact in nutrition and food systems. We came together to promote the health and environmental benefits of plant-based dining at scale through foodservice.

How does Nestlé envision the future of plant-based in food service?

Generally, it’s so important we delight our diners with delicious and nutritious food experiences. We know they will not compromise on taste and texture.

It really comes down to making plant-based foods attractive and craveable so that they are the choice and not the compromise to a meal experience.

College and university students are oriented toward exploration and diverse thinking – from an openness to try new foods and to deepen their commitment to sustainability. That’s why we’re starting the Incubator there.

Looking further ahead, we see this program being scalable for out-of-home dining operators of varying formats and sizes beyond just the university setting.

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