For about a month between Feb. 26 and March 23, Aramark menued a set of three customizable poke bowl dishes at three college and 10 corporate dining locations that featured Ahimi-branded vegan “tuna” from vendor Ocean Hugger Foods. The LTO program was designed both to test consumer reaction to the Ahimi product and to build on Aramark’s commitment to increasing the number of plant-based dishes it serves.
The company notes that already 30 percent of the main dishes served across its dining operations in the healthcare, higher education and business dining segments are either vegetarian or vegan.
Ahimi was created by certified master chef James Corwell out of five ingredients—tomatoes, filtered water, soy sauce, sesame oil and sugar—and is designed to substitute for fish in certain recipes as a way of replacing demand for depleted species. Corwell worked with Aramark’s Culinary Innovation Center to develop the poke bowl recipes.
Aramark Executive Chef Matthew Morett at Aramark’s Tower Café with the spicy poke bowl, one of three recipes featuring vegan Ahimi “tuna” served in a pilot program.
The poke bowls were served in three basic flavor profiles—wasabi, spicy and soy ginger. Each bowl contained about a three-ounce portion of Ahimi, which is consistent with Aramark’s current recommended protein offering for similar menu items across the industry.
The bowls were offered in rotation with other retail menu offerings at existing made-to-order stations where customers could “walk the line” to personalize the bowls to their flavor preferences. All three basic flavor profiles were available daily.
The locations were selected based on a cross section of different populations to gather feedback from a broad base of consumers. Ocean Hugger provided a marketing package that included educational information about the company and its Ahimi product as well as consumer communications materials.
“Overall, the consumer feedback across all service channels has been extremely positive,” says Aramark Spokesman David Freireich.
While there were no changes made in the poke bowl recipes during the course of the test period, “we’ll take the learnings from this LTO to apply to any potential future development with Ahimi,” Freireich observes. “We’ll compile feedback and review key learnings to make an informed decision about the best way to incorporate Ahimi on our menus in the future. Our operators found Ahimi easy to work with and enjoyed the product overall.”
He says the experiment with the vegan “seafood” product aligns well with Aramark’s plans to do more with meatless offerings.
“As a company, we’re committed to developing and offering menus that provide consumers with choices to meet their individual lifestyle and dietary preferences,” Freireich observes. “A big part of this commitment includes creating menus that feature plant-based menus. We’ll continue to explore opportunities that allow us to achieve these goals and deliver dining experiences that are both healthy and taste great.”