April 9, 2012
Fewer than three weeks on the job and I have the privilege of writing my first official blog post about the release of exciting survey results from Sodexo’s Meatless Monday Initiative. Who is Sodexo and what are the exciting results, you ask?
First, let me introduce myself. I am the new Project Director of the Johns Hopkins Meatless Monday Project, which was launched in 2003 to serve as the scientific adviser to the national Meatless Monday campaign, a non-profit initiative of The Monday Campaigns in association with the Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH). I recently completed my MSPH degree in Human Nutrition and certification as a Registered Dietitian through a coordinated program at the JHSPH. I am thrilled to be back at the Center in this capacity, and look forward to applying my knowledge, skills and enthusiasm surrounding food, nutrition, public health, and environmental sustainability to direct this exciting and dynamic project.
Enough about me – let’s get back to the Sodexo survey. Sodexo is global food service and facilities management company, serving more than 10 million meals a day in North America alone. As part of a larger Better Tomorrow Plan that outlines the company’s commitment to health and sustainability, Sodexo launched a Meatless Monday initiative starting last January (2011) with its more than 2,000 corporate and government accounts and more than 900 health care facilities across the country, including the Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Cobblestone Cafe right across the street from CLF. The voluntary program included new vegetarian meal options each Monday, along with communications materials that educate diners about the health benefits of eating less meat and more vegetables. For a food service company of this size to launch a Meatless Monday initiative on such a large scale across a variety of facilities represented an exciting development for the national Meatless Monday campaign in terms of raising awareness and measuring its impact on a large scale.
It’s easy enough to say what the potential benefits of an initiative like this might be, but it’s not always so easy to quantify them and evaluate the impact of implementing such a program. Taking on this challenge, Sodexo conducted surveys with general managers at all of their food service accounts. A team of CLF researchers analyzed the data and synthesized the results into a white paper that has been released today (on a Monday, of course)!
Responses from 245 food service sites (comprised of about half corporate and half health care facilities) following a full year of implementation revealed that Sodexo’s Meatless Monday initiative has helped participating facilities serve healthier, more sustainable menu options while maintaining sales and increasing customer satisfaction. You can read the full report for more details, but here is just a snapshot of some of the key findings:
- Of the 74% of responding managers who offered Meatless Monday at their facilities, the majority of providers (76%) said that the campaign was ‘easy’ or ‘very easy’ to implement.
- 87% of respondents noted that the initiative demonstrated Sodexo’s commitment to health and 71% said it made vegetarian options more appealing.
- 49% of food service directors who implemented the Meatless Monday program saw an increase in purchases of vegetables during the promotion and 30% saw a decrease in meat purchases.
- The majority of providers—51%—did not see an adverse effect on retail sales, and there was a net positive trend in reported consumer response.
- 65% of participating respondents said they will continue to promote Meatless Monday, while an additional 24% said they might continue promoting the campaign.
These results, along with other important qualitative data included in the report, offer a preliminary glimpse into the potential impacts of a food service company implementing a Meatless Monday initiative on this scale, while also indicating opportunities to strengthen future implementation of the initiative at other facilities.
Evaluations such as this all have limitations, which the authors discuss in more detail in the report. However, the value of this paper as a whole is still significant, and what excites me the most is the enormous potential for a company like Sodexo to take the Meatless Monday campaign to the next level with its reach of over 10 million meals served daily. For just a moment, imagine if every single one of those 10 million meals included nutritious, plant-based, flavorful foods every single Monday. That’s 10 million opportunities a week to inspire customers to make healthier food choices both for their personal health and for the well-being of our planet. That’s what excites me about this Sodexo report, and about the Meatless Monday campaign as a whole. By building upon this research, we can begin to better quantify the effects of a large-scale implementation of Meatless Monday via food services and watch as this potential is realized.