Sponsored by Barilla Foodservice
Whether identifying as vegan, vegetarian or even omnivore, young consumers are driving the need for more plant-based options on college campuses.
In a February 2021 survey, YPulse found that 47% of consumers aged 13 to 39 regularly eat plant-based foods, drink plant-based beverages, or do both, while 23% say they don’t currently order those items but are interested in trying them.
Meeting meatless demands
“It’s a brand new game, trying to meet the demand,” says Alexander Ong, director of Culinary Excellence at UMASS. “Plant-based is a big deal.”
As the number of students demanding plant-based foods has significantly increased over the last several years, so has the number of brands requesting to meet with college culinary decision-makers to pitch their latest products. For Ong and his team that means a lot of tasting—and testing—of such products.
“Some [products] work,” says Ong. “Some fall flat.”
One product Ong is particularly pleased with is Barilla Red Lentil and Chickpea Pastas, made entirely from real red lentils or chickpeas. He has been using the products for everything from tried-and-true pasta favorites like putanesca and Alfredo to fresh and bright stir fries with lots of veggies.
With continued labor shortages and supply chain challenges, having these innovative pasta products can help college and university operators, who sometimes serve tens of thousands of meals each day, to provide the comfort fare young consumers want, without the ingredients they don’t.
“Our students eat pasta like there’s no tomorrow,” says Ong. “In terms of the health aspect, the nutrition value, [Barilla’s products] checks all the boxes.”
Delivering authentic dishes
According to the Pew Research Center Gen Z is more diverse than previous generations, making them more interested in, and demanding of, not only diverse but also authentic dishes. It helps that pasta—no matter what it’s made from—is a versatile vessel for any number of ingredients and flavor profiles.
“It’s easy for us that [Barilla’s legume-based pastas] can carry so many things,” says Ong. “The product is so user friendly you can have Latin flavors, Asian flavors, good old Italian flavors. The possibilities are endless.”
While some culinary teams may be skeptical that a legume-based pasta will taste good or even perform well, Ong says they just need to prepare it a little differently. Rather than cooking the pasta and topping it with sauce in the traditional way, legume-based products are best when cooked al dente and then finished in a sauce.
“It tastes smoother, flavorful, feels more finessed,” Ong says.
Partners with benefits
College and university foodservice operators who take advantage of products that help meet Gen Z’s growing interest in plant-based meals have a decided edge in appealing to and earning the loyalty of young consumers.
Whatever plant-based product operators opt for, establishing a partnership with the brand is key to success. Having a trusted, recognized brand partner can add a lot of value—from developing products that meet operators’ specific needs to creating a long-term relationship that delivers year after year.
>To learn how Barilla Legume pastas can help you meet college consumers’ meatless demands and more, visit Barilla Foodservice.