Foodservice leaders from all segments of the industry joined culinary professionals, educators, thought leaders, and analysts for this year’s Menus of Change event, hosted by The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPS) earlier this week in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The three-day summit focused on sustainability as it relates to creating healthy menus for consumers and what role the industry plays in climate change—a conversation that came on the heels of rising beef prices in the first four months of 2014 due to droughts and intense weather patterns.
In 2008, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, now known as the Global Change Research Program, published a study detailing the effects of climate change on agriculture, resources, and biodiversity, and found that rising temperatures could have a significant impact on the productivity of crops and animal production. In the annual Menus of Change report, the CIA and HSPS determined that the foodservice industry’s efforts to tackle climate change have been too slow to stem the tide of rising costs.
Speakers at the event—including Walter Willett, chair of HSPS’s Department of Nutrition; Arlin Wasserman, founder and partner of Changing Tastes; Joan Rector McGlockton, vice president of industry affairs and food policy at the National Restaurant Association; and Dan Coudreaut, executive chef at McDonald’s—stressed menu composition with less meat, more investment in plant-based proteins, and more consumer education over the need to reduce red meat consumption and increase fruit and vegetable consumption.
For the quick-service segment, the experts said during the event, the challenge lies in making changes while staying true to a brand’s identity and consumer expectations, Coudreaut said during a panel discussion on building sustainable business models for the future. The executive chef shared stories of McDonald’s first shift to making milk and apple slices the default choice in Happy Meals, and the chain’s first launch of a veggie burger—both were met with unhappy customer response, he said.
While making menu changes may be more difficult at a traditional fast-food joint, it doesn’t mean brands like McDonald’s aren’t doing their part to make an effort. The quick-serve behemoth is one of the founding members of the Global Roundtable of Sustainable Beef, which also includes National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Tyson Foods, Walmart, and Darden Restaurants. Coudreaut said the roundtable’s first task is defining guidelines for sustainable beef, which will then shape what sourcing strategies McDonald’s adopts. As a brand that estimates it feeds more than 60 million guests daily, McDonald’s has an opportunity to impact a significant amount of consumers should it make the shift to more sustainable practices. And the organization has expressed its willingness to do so. “The white coat in the organization is elevating,” Coudreaut said during the panel.
By Tamara Omazic