Market Opportunities for Pulses in Foodservice
August 17, 2018
Large volume foodservice can help increase demand for lentils in the U.S.
Building on the Canadian pulse industry's goal to have new markets or uses for 25 per cent of Canadian pulses by 2025, Canadian pulse promoters are looking at ways to revise market development plans to hone in on achieving the desired end results.
One of the areas of that will see an expanded focus is the foodservice sector, where the industry has been working in for the past couple of years to promote the use of Canadian lentils amongst United States (U.S.) colleges and universities.
The knowledge the industry has gained so far will be crucial to informing the next phase of promotions, which will include a narrower focus, says Amber Johnson, SPG’s Manager of Market Promotion.
The emphasis in this area will be placed on the U.S. marketplace and will be targeting non-commercial foodservice companies such as Compass Group, Sodexo, and Aramark, which run food operations for large-scale organizations such as hospitals, corporations, and big businesses, in addition to a focus on colleges and universities.
Not only do these companies have significant influence over menu items, they also have important buying potential because they do centralized buying and supply management, while also running physical operations, Johnson says.
Part of the goal will also be helping these companies connect with Canadian suppliers that can provide consistent and high quality product for their foodservice needs.
“Over the last few years we have built great relationships with some of those operators, which really allowed us to learn about how their businesses operates and where the potential is before we dove in with a full-on strategy,” she says.
For example, three years ago SPG partnered with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), an American college that is largely regarded as one of the premier chef schools in the world.
With 49,000 alumni, including some of America’s most famous chefs, the CIA has major influence on the American diet — which made this partnership a valuable tool for helping promote Canadian lentils, Johnson says.
“Through this partnership we really got a better understand of where the volume is being moved in foodservice in the U.S. and what is driving that movement,” she says. “This has evolved into us identifying which pieces of the foodservice industry to focus on in our targeted strategy.”
Leveraging the relationship with the CIA, as well as other relationships built in the last several years, the Canadian industry was also able to do targeted stakeholder consultations earlier this year to determine where these operators are currently using pulses on their menus and where there is opportunity to grow use.
The new strategic direction for work in the foodservice area includes a drive to position lentils as the primary source for plant protein. With growing consumer interest in plant protein and consumers that are looking to slightly reducing their consumption of animal products, lentils are well positioned to gain a larger share of the North American plate.
“A recent study by DataEssentials in the U.S. found that 44 per cent of consumers are trying to eat less meat tomorrow than they are today, while 57 per cent are trying to eat more plant protein,” says Rachel Kehrig, SPG’s Director of Communications and Market Promotion.
“This means foodservice operators are looking for efficient and cost-effective ways to meet the demand of this shifting consumer demographic. We are working directly with foodservice operators in a hands-on setting to demonstrate how lentils can play an integral role in meeting the needs of their customers in a healthy and sustainable way.”
When talking about sustainability, Kehrig notes that lentils are already receiving attention from foodservice operators.
“These larger foodservice operations are looking for food solutions that can help contribute to broader corporate sustainability goals, while still appealing to their customer base. Lentil’s nitrogen fixing properties and low carbon footprint, coupled with the high levels of plant protein, means they have the potential to meet both corporate and customer demands.”
When promoting to foodservice operators there are two targeted food applications that the Canadian industry is going to focus its marketing efforts on, in order to make significant gains in market share.
First, the concept of food blends – combining animal and plant protein to create a food product that serves the needs of the customer base that is interested in reducing their overall meat consumption, but still seeks to enjoy meat as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Second, the idea of healthy bowls, which combine the plant protein of lentils with whole grains and vegetables, and a small optional portion of meat. Bowls are an emerging trend amongst millennial and Generation Z consumers, who are the ones that drive trends amongst
“We are going to focus on those two things in terms of applications, instead of trying to put lentils into everything,” Johnson says.
“The more we can focus in on certain concepts that are menuable on a real large scale basis, the more we have the potential to move the needle and create new demand.”