It’s no surprise that health and wellness issues are becoming increasingly important for conference and meeting delegates. In addition to an overall movement toward healthier food choices, many regions are seeing an increased demand for organic and locally sourced foods, food requests brought on by allergies and vegetarian preferences, as well as a growing multi-national – and urban – food culture.
Our IACC members, as well, have told us that health and wellness issues are impacting not only their menus, but also the way food and meetings are planned and delivered. In a recent survey about Trends in Nutrition & Delegate Wellbeing, IACC found that more than 87 percent of venues have made changes or additions to their menus based on health and wellness principles or feedback from clients. And many are changing how their menus are prepared, using less salt, sugar and fat, and creating more dairy-free and gluten-free options, and smaller portion sizes.
In fact, gluten-free is one of the most common requests today compared to 2 years ago. It has joined vegetarian as a standard menu choice. You can add vegan and dairy-free to that list as well, with many people avoiding dairy due to intolerance as well as choice. Alternative milk selections such as soy, almond or coconut milk are featuring more frequently in food preparation and at coffee stations.
As several IACC members said, gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan are no longer just trends. Menus must have these items, and they now are common enough requests that guests expect them to be offered.
Eating for energy
In addition, we’re seeing more requests for ‘superfoods’ that go beyond just being healthy to offering a brain or energy boost. Foods such as walnuts, quinoa, blueberries, acai berries, dark chocolate, avocados, beets, spinach and kale, are sometimes attributed with ‘brain boosting’ powers that make them perfect meeting fare.
Many venues are taking note of these health-conscious choices and adding healthier high-energy options to their snack and break offerings. Some of the most popular ones include:
• House-made veggie-based snacks
• Fruits, vegetable and cheese platters
• Choices in milks: full fat, skimmed, soy, almond
• Popcorn, dried and fresh fruits
• High protein items like nuts, seeds and eggs
• Dark chocolate
• Energy bars made with super-grains & alternative sweeteners to sugar (such as fig puree)
• Hydration stations with fruit/cucumber/mint infused water
• Baked goods with less fat and sugar
Healthier lunch options
For lunch and other meals, the menus are also getting lighter, with more healthy options added into the mix. Many venues are getting rid of fat laden-sauces, or even making them gluten-free and dairy-free. Some of the lunch items being served today include:
• Enhanced salad bars with more protein choices and whole-grain salads
• More plant based foods with no GMOs
• Hot food bars with healthier options and less fried food
• More fish of different types (beyond tilapia and salmon)
• More broiled and grilled proteins
• Additional vegetarian options
• Gluten free sauces and gluten-free pasta
• Super-food blends with quinoa, freekeh, millet, bulgur
• Healthy house made soups
Urban food culture
From gourmet food trucks to international fare to street food, what started as an urban food culture is making its way into meetings and conference venues. Street food like tacos and satay are turning up on conference food tables with local and healthy twists. Sushi, pho (Vietnamese noodles), hummus and spring rolls are becoming as main-stream as bruschetta and stuffed mushrooms as offerings.
The global mix of foods offered at most conferences and meetings is designed to provide both variety and ease of eating. An emphasis on “finger foods” that let delegates network and mingle while they eat makes these sorts of foods popular, and have expanded the traditional set of appetizer-style offerings at many venues beyond the local traditions to include more global variety.
Food trucks at events and meetings are a common sight and growing trend.
Farm to table cuisine
Along with the increased concern for healthy food is a growing awareness of eco-friendly growing practices. The farm-to-table movement has encouraged more venues to add in-season, locally grown produce and locally sourced meat and fish to their menus.
The idea of eating more locally produced, organic and non-GMO foods is influencing the food requests venues see. In fact, more than 84% of respondents to IACC’s nutrition survey said their clients are requesting–and are willing to pay more for–locally sourced foods.
Making meetings healthier
Given the growing awareness and importance of healthy eating among meeting delegates world-wide, it’s not surprising that venues are taking a pro-active role in providing healthier options. After all, as the industry experts, meeting planners and venues must stay on the pulse of the industry and provide the types of services that keep pace not only with trends, but also with the lifestyles expectations of guests. IACC members, especially, take leadership roles in keeping meeting choices in line with best practices around the world.
One example is Kent State University, which at the start of the 2016 academic year became the first university in the USA to feature an entirely gluten-free dining hall on campus, and has recently upgraded the salad bar system at the Stark campus Conference Center to expand the healthy selections offered.
“The upgraded, custom-made system provides the versatility to serve hot and cold menu options simultaneously. Combinations such as fresh salad and toppings, homemade soups or baked potatoes allow our guests to create their own entrée,” said Brittany L. Acuff, Guest Services Manager, Kent State University Conference Center. “We aim to provide a nutritious, personalized dining experience taking into consideration dietary restrictions and food allergies or sensitivities.”
Kent State University Conference Center offers a well-stocked hot and cold food bar with a variety of healthy options.
Get the full report
IACC’s latest survey report on Trends in Nutrition & Delegate Wellbeing provides many valuable insights into this critical topic for the meeting and events industry. You can read it free.