You may feel satisfied that delegates at your events are well catered for, but would your delegates agree?
IACC have just released a new survey report, Trends in Nutrition & Delegate Wellbeing. The professional event industry association worked along with MPI (Meeting Professionals International) and corporate catering specialists, the Russell Partnership, to compile the report.
While the report reveals some promising trends, there are areas where venues need to work harder to provide for clientele with varied requirements.
Move to health-oriented food with a touch of comfort
Trends in food and wellness in the wider community are reflected in changed offerings from meeting venues. In most cases (87%), this is a direct response to feedback from clients. Throughout the world, the last few decades has seen an unprecedented interest in health-oriented foods. These can no longer be dismissed as “fads,” where eating is reduced to a necessary chore. Rather, the report shows there is a real concern for “optimal health through nutrient density, elimination of processed products and positive mental attitudes related to consumption.”
While responses were overwhelmingly toward healthier options, survey respondents also made it clear that plenty of clients still want at least some more indulgent comfort foods on offer. This may still deliver comfort, familiarity and a positive experience for some delegates. Does that confuse the overall message? Not really. Meeting attendees are all different, and so are their requirements. Venues can reasonably cater for most of these differences.
Gluten-free and vegetarian food isn’t going anywhere
A key finding of the survey is that gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan items cannot be considered short-lived trends. These choices often reflect a whole lifestyle that spans many years or a lifetime.
Gluten-free is now one of the most common requests compared to 2 years ago – along with vegetarianism — and it is now a standard menu choice. Veganism is also rising in popularity among concerns for health, the environment and ethics. Milk alternatives such as soy, almond and coconut milk frequently feature in food preparation and at coffee stations.
100% of respondents to the survey reported more gluten-free requests now than they did 2 years ago. 83% recall the same for vegan.
Don’t forget to ask about allergies
Many avoid certain foods or ingredients not just as a choice of lifestyle. Some food allergies (eggs, nuts, shellfish, milk, wheat) can cause severe medical complications. That’s not how you want your event to be remembered.
It’s now become common practice for venues to ask attendees in advance about any special dietary needs or allergies. Some do this during discussions during the sales process, others speak to guests as they arrive.
Michelle Fruzyna, Director of Food and Beverage at Dolce Hotels & Resorts for Wyndham, says, “We make [allergy/dietary restrictions] part of the registration process. The guest cannot move forward with the registration if they do not answer the dietary question.” In any case, 96% of venues are willing to tackle the allergy issue.
Training a vital ingredient
Along with offering acceptable menus, 75% responded that they also offer training programmes for employees, to make sure that guests with these needs are catered for.
This training should encompass not just the meeting planners but staff at every level, right down to those serving. Nothing is more frustrating than asking if something is gluten-free and being told, ‘Umm, not really sure. Oh, probably.’ Even so, 12.5% said they don’t train their staff for this. More work ahead for the industry to fix this.
As intelligent choices in food become more important globally, corporate caterers are having to be pro-active in providing healthier options. You can read IACC’s full report here.