Can less meat mean more profit?

Have you heard of World Meat Free Day?

Nope.

Neither had I. But it was on July 13th.

Oh. Cue a flurry of polls showing that people want to eat less meat and demanding more vegetarian options from us then?

You’ve got it. Younger people are particularly keen flexitarians apparently.

They would be.

Nearly half (48%) of 16 to 19-year-olds and 40% of 16 to 24s agree that a meat-free diet, or one where we eat less meat, and better meat when we do eat it, is better for the environment as it lowers carbon emissions.

Says who?

The Plate for the Planet campaign. Me neither. WWF-UK and Sodexo discovered a similar trend, though. One in five millennials in their poll said they intend to eat less meat this year. Of those, 68% want to be able to choose plant-based options from the menu.

Let them go to Pret, then. It’s barbecue season.

Pret’s “healthy” vegetarian options have actually boosted sales and they’re turning one store into a “pop-up” vegetarian Pret this summer.

Bit niche though, isn’t it?

Not really, given the polling they’ve done. Half of their customers want a vegetarian fridge in every outlet.

It won’t last. What people say and what they actually do are very different.

True. But Pret isn’t going it alone. Sodexo is also designing menus with less meat. It says they’re healthier and greener and the board is backing the initiative with cash.

Sounds expensive.

Not necessarily. They’re actually finding most of the dishes cost the same, and some are cheaper.

Sounds like a marketing gimmick to me.

Actually, they are arguably playing the long game. Investors are pretty interested in the environmental performance of businesses these days. The University of Oxford has found that almost 90% of research reports on publicly traded companies now find that strong environmental, social and governance performance is linked to better business performance, and that sustainability practices positively influence stock performance.

Yes, but foodservice always flies under the radar a bit. It’s the fast- moving consumer goods that get done over.

At the moment, yes. Oxfam has its Behind the Brands scorecard, for example. But it won’t be long before similar indices are developed for companies like ours.

So you’re saying ban the burgers, then?

Not at all. This isn’t about meat-free menus; it’s about the opportunity in plant-based options. That’s what more customers say they want (though you need to make the choices exciting, so I’d steer clear of the stuffed peppers). That’s what investors are increasingly looking for. And, eventually, if the Paris agreement is worth the paper it’s written on, it’s something governments will have to look at too.

The Catering for Sustainability report, published by Sodexo, WWF-UK and the Food Ethics Council, is available online here.

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