"Adding novelty to an item can entice an individual to try something that they may not otherwise try." - Michael Atanasio, Overlook Medical Center
Overlook Medical Center in New Jersey is a signatory of the Cool Food Pledge, a new platform to help hospitals offer diners more of what they want while slashing food-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Overlook is one of 64 signatories from health care.
Here are some thoughts from Michael Atanasio, Overlook's director of food and nutrition:
Why have you focused on plant-forward eating in your facility?
Plant-centered diets can offer solutions for a healthy lifestyle. However, education is needed to optimize a plant-based diet and to ensure the individual is getting everything they need nutritionally. To that end, we use plant-focused meals to educate our patrons. There are also obvious benefits for sustainability. Another benefit of plant-based menus selections is that it helps to reduce overall costs. We offer plant-based selections and we do so as a challenge for our consumers to try something different. We also offer plant-based selections that are not typical. Plant-based options also enable us to expand the variety of what we serve.
Why did you sign the Cool Food Pledge?
The Cool Food Pledge is a great program and one that offers a lot to operators. The most important aspect of this pledge is that it offers resources and instills accountability to our sustainable goals. It provides targets to meet and resources in which to track hard numbers and results.
How do you sell plant-forward foods to your customers?
Adding novelty to an item can entice an individual to try something that they may not otherwise try. The novelty can be making a traditional meat dish vegetarian and with dishes with smaller meat portions such as vegetarian chicken cutlet, tuna fish, beef stir fry, etc. We also tie these items into theme days/weeks/months. An example was our menus during the Olympics. We ran specials using ancient grains from the countries that were competing.
Have there been any challenges in selling plant-centered dishes? How did you address them?
We met with a lot of opposition when we started meatless Mondays. We overcame this barrier through sharing the health benefits, environmental benefits, and through challenging customers to “try something different.”
How have sales changed, if at all, after you implemented a plant-centered program?
In large part, the sales remained the same. However, in many cases, our food cost was cropped which increased our margin.
What would you say to a food service director in another part of the country that may have doubts about plant-centered dishes selling in their facility?
Try it! Offer items that go beyond traditional offerings and provide education behind the items about sourcing, flavor, etc.. If possible, attach something novel or unique to the menu item.