Nestlé Professional’s plant-based incubator set to accelerate protein habit shifts
09 Feb 2023 --- Nestlé Professional, Wholesome Crave and The University of Massachusetts Dining Program (UMass Dining) are launching the Purpose-Driven Plant-Based Incubator, a collaboration designed to accelerate and encourage plant-based eating via a system of menus, workshops and student engagement programs.
Chef Michel Nischan of Wholesome Crave and the culinary team at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, developed the incubator in collaboration. For 2023, more than 12 other universities have signed up to participate in the program, meaning the program could impact over 500,000 student meals a day.
“The Purpose-Driven Plant-Based Incubator was created in response to foodservice operators reporting increased demand for a wider variety of globally inspired, flavor-driven, plant-forward options,” Fleur Veldhoven, vice president of food with Nestlé Professional, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“Consumers demand a wider variety of globally inspired flavor-driven, plant-forward menu offerings. 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.”
High demand for plant-based options has driven the program, which will provide both plant-based meals and instructions on how to prepare them.
“We’re just helping our operators respond to increasing student demand for a greater variety of delicious, plant-based options,” says Veldhoven.
“Students want to eat more varieties of plant-based and plant-forward meals. This program helps operators develop more flavorful recipes, streamline dish preparation, introduce cooking techniques that enhance flavor, and simplify operational challenges.”
“In addition to the playbook we’re offering, the incubator program will include hands-on workshops and collaboration to help partners customize their journey,” explains Perry Miele, president and CEO of Nestlé Professional.
Of the student population, Gen Z students especially are craving sustainable choices during out-of-home dining.
“There’s quite a bit of research, including our own, that shows Gen Z college and university students are both more interested in a sustainable food future than previous generations, and they are eager to help drive change,” explains Veldhoven.
“We believe manufacturers – small and large – should take note of Gen Z’s purpose-driven relationship with food and support university operators in offering craveable plant-based and plant-forward meals.”
Supporting data for this has been provided by UMass’s so-called “living laboratories,” which study healthy eating habits.
“Studies done at the UMass Dining Living Laboratory find that Gen Z students increase consumption of plant-forward ingredients when incorporated with authentic global recipes,” says Ken Toong, executive director of Auxiliary Enterprises at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Labels and accountability
Part of the sustainability push of the program will include on-menu carbon labeling, allowing students to make menu choices based on informed environmental impact.
“With the ability for students to track their carbon footprint via on-menu carbon labeling, the program makes their food choices even more purposeful,” notes Veldhoven.
“We expect carbon footprint labeling to evolve from ‘nice-to-have’ to a ‘must-have.’ We know that decisions made by individuals and organizations to adopt more plant-based diets can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We also know that by promoting plant-based and plant-forward meals and making them more appealing and easier to identify, we can help individuals and organizations reduce their carbon footprints.”
The program’s playbook offers various plant-based recipes to guide interested students, developed along with Sweet Earth Foods and Wholesome Crave.
Recipes include plant-powered golumpki, fiery veggie chili & mindful Chik’n quesadilla, plant-powered chawanmushi with Sweet Earth breakfast sausage and tres hermanas enchiladas with Mindful Chik’n.
“The incubator showcases plant-forward recipes while providing guidance on reducing operators’ and students’ carbon footprints,” Miele comments.
Veldhoven is hopeful the scheme will take off, commenting, “we see this program being the pilot model for what is scalable for out-of-home dining.”
Plant-based ebbs and flows
Alternative proteins continue to gain momentum, with a recent GEA-commissioned survey of 1,000 chefs in eleven countries revealing professional cooks’ confidence in alternative proteins.
Forty-three percent believe that the proportion of meals prepared with alternative proteins will reach between 26% and 50% by 2040, and 23% believe alternative proteins could be used more by 2040 than traditional ones.
However, as the plant-based sector continues to gain traction, consumers are becoming demanding regarding the sensory aspects of these products. Consumers are looking for plant-based foods that match the nutritional profile of their animal-based counterparts and offer similar sensory experiences in terms of taste, texture and appearance.
This trend underscores how the rapid rise of the plant-based sector has, almost inevitably, hit some roadblocks, necessitating a refocusing on consumer demands for high-quality, flavorsome products.
By James Davies
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