If anyone can see into the future of food it’s Ciran Madanes

As Sodexo’s Head of Insight it’s her job to identify tomorrow’s hottest trends in food and drink in order to stay ahead of the curve, and deliver menus that excite staff and customers. It’s tasty work – if you can find it – and Madanes loves the mix of crunching food and data. But, she confesses, it’s not as glamorous as many people think.

As the ‘eyes and ears’ of the company, a typical day involves ‘an awful lot of reading’. It’s her job to condense huge amounts of information into a clear story with clear outcomes for the wider business. Beyond the focus on food, her remit extends to broader consumer trends. “Food is only part of the journey. Our analysis takes in everything from flexible working to the way consumers pay and the role automation plays in food delivery. Our goal is to come up with the optimal customer journey and to help people be at their best from a dietary point of view.”

Why is it so important to know what’s around the corner? “We always design today for future services, so you need to know just where the world’s headed.”

Sustainability, value consciousness and convenience are all huge trends, says Madanes. There is also a big focus on health and strong plant-based offerings. “Part of my job is to monitor these macro trends as they evolve and work out where they are going and whether they have legs. With healthy eating, for example, we think there’s a strong generational shift in the way people are eating and so it’s here to stay.”

That said, stark intergenerational differences persist. “Certain trends will be amplified in certain age groups. Millennials might be into superfoods, but older consumers have a much more balanced diet. Our corporate services are often serving four generations under one roof and there are big differences between them so we have to balance variety with regular innovation. It’s quite a challenge.”

Food trends for Madanes are not about working out how to add charcoal shavings to pasta dishes or teaching chefs how to make Thai rolled ice cream. Instead, the trends she’s really interested in are the ones that don’t go away but are continuing to evolve.

One such trend is the growing ‘flexitarianism’ movement. Jamie Oliver is one of the celebrity ambassadors behind this movement but the trend towards more-meat free diets is far greater than a celebrity vogue.

Plant-based diets
A ‘flexitarian approach’ – where the diet is predominantly vegetarian and occasionally vegan diet, without the restriction of ‘never’ eating meat or fish – is a rising phenomenon which has seen the number of adults actively looking to cut meat from their diet. The increase in those following a vegan diet is 500 per cent since 2016.

Among young people particularly, flexitarian and reduction in meat consumption is a huge food trend, with a fifth of British 16 to 24 year olds identifying as either veggie or vegan, which is driving demand for tasty and satisfying vegan options.

Trends such as flexitarianism are symptomatic of a wider societal trend towards increased reflection and consciousness about what we are eating, how we are living and the impact we are having upon the environment.

There is a growing awareness that what we eat has a massive impact on our planet, with many people having concerns about the environmental impact of global meat production and the sometimes questionable ethics of factory farming.

There is also a growing number of celebrities and social media stars who promote plant-based, natural diets, this influence of this, coupled with the trend awareness for more ‘clean’ eating and healthier lifestyles, means that plant-based diets are also aspirational.

Plant-based culinary training
Charlie Huson, Forward Food Programme Manager for Humane Society International UK has joined with chef and author Jenny Chandler to deliver plant-based culinary training to companies such as Sodexo but also with top universities and other institutions. With plant-based eating firmly in the mainstream the workshops help empower chefs to embrace this and be creative in the kitchen.

A group of chefs from Sodexo’s universities business have undertaken the training; learning about the different flavours and how they can create ‘creamy’ textures normally associated with dairy through vegan alternatives such as avocado and non-dairy yogurts. The chefs were also tasked with making vegan dishes that could work in a commercial contract catering setting, such as vegan mac and cheese, roasted aubergine with soba noodles and bean chilli con quinoa.

With benefits to the environment and health plant-based food is something foodservice providers need to get behind in order to meet the needs of their consumers and to promote better quality of life.

Sodexo’s Better Tomorrow 2025 sustainability roadmap includes a commitment to offer its consumers healthier lifestyle options as well as reducing its environmental impact on the planet, this is what the plant forward movement is all about and why Sodexo’s vision is to become the leading food services company in this movement.

Sodexo’s mission is to encourage consumers to eat more vegetables, beans, pulses and wholegrains, thereby lowering carbon emissions while delivering great tasting and healthier dishes. To do this it has set a veg pledge to procure ten per cent more veg by 2020 and 16 per cent more by 2025. It is doing this by designing more plant forward recipe options for its chefs to use, these not only mean it is serving dishes with more vegetables than meat or fish but by doing so is contributing to the health and wellbeing of its consumers. It has also developed ‘Planted’ a street food offer featuring Oumph!, a 100 per cent plant based meat alternative made from soybeans, salt, water.