Lentils Take Over UMass Campus

SPG partnered with the University of Massachusetts to bring lentils to campus menus

by SPG Staff

In April 2017, Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (SPG), under their promotional brand Lentils.org, partnered with the University of Massachusetts (UMass) at their Amherst campus location, to promote lentils in one of their on-campus dining halls.

In 2016 the dining program at UMass-Amherst was rated the best campus food program in the United States by The Princeton Review. Further to that, student surveys conducted on campus suggested that the dining program played a considerable factor for students in choosing to attend the
University. The quality of the dining program is supported by the fact that 84 per cent of students at the University are signed up for a campus meal plan, which equates to 50,000 meals served on campus daily.

The relationship between SPG and UMass-Amherst was formed as a result of SPG's ongoing partnerships with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), of which UMass-Amherst is also closely linked.

“UMass-Amherst is widely hailed as one of the best campus dining programs in North America,” says Amber Johnson, Manager of Market Promotion with SPG. “They are known for their innovation, and their ability to take action in implementing new and exciting trends in food service. So when they were interested in partnering with us, we knew things would happen quickly.”

UMass has increased plant based protein menu items five fold over the past three years. “By utilizing a globally influenced menu, UMass can showcase lentils in a variety of different dishes with unique flavor profiles,” says Garett Distefano, UMass Director of Residential Dining Services Auxiliary Enterprises. He suggested that the University is seeing students being more mindful of healthy eating and its impact on their daily lives, as well as students becoming more aware of the environmental impact of what they are eating, all of which position lentils positively. “In a Spring 2017 survey, 37 per cent of the students indicated they increased consumption of beans and legumes,” Distefano notes.

During the promotion, lentils overtook the menu in one of their dining halls, with many options showcasing the versatility of this pulse. “The dining team really leaned in and ensured there was a wide breadth of options to suit many tastes,” says Johnson. Some of the lentil dishes featured were twists on the familiar, including variations of burgers and pasta sauce that were blends of meat and lentils, while others played into the growing two-bite snack trend such as the Coconut and Banana Lentil Bites. Also, as part of the promotion, SPG staff were invited to speak to a group of students in the dining hall about lentils, including where and how they are grown, and their nutritional attributes. This was then followed up by a lentil cooking demonstration.

It is estimated that approximately 6,500 students ate a dish containing lentils as a result of the one-day promotion. The success of the program has opened the door for further collaboration between SPG and UMass-Amherst.

“Plant based proteins, lentils and pulses, are essential to the long-term growth and success of campus dining programs,” says Distefano. “First, the versatility pulses and lentils bring to the college and university chefs—lentils are a blank canvas able to absorb a variety of globally influenced flavours. Secondly, from a menu engineering perspective, pulses and lentils are high impact and low cost, allowing chefs to do more with more—the more you use lentils the greater the impact.“

SPG hopes to continue to grow their partnership with UMass-Amherst and other campus dining programs in the future says Johnson. “The opportunity for lentils and pulses in the campus dining sector is one that we believe has a tremendous ability to impact the volume of consumption in North America in a more immediate nature. This is then supported by the long-term work we are doing to change consumer perceptions and behaviours related to pulses in other areas.”