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New survey shows shift toward more plant-based options with Sodexo Meatless Monday initiative

Apr 08, 2012

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Americans eat more meat than any other developed nation – a lifestyle choice that can take a toll on health and the environment.  A new report just released by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future indicates that Sodexo’s Meatless Monday initiative has helped the leader in Quality of Daily Life Solutions accomplish its goal of serving healthier, more sustainable choices while maintaining sales and increasing customer satisfaction. 

“It’s one thing to know from a nutritional perspective that reducing your intake of saturated fats is an important component of a healthy lifestyle. But it’s a whole other challenge to make that case to a nation of serious meat lovers,” said Nitu Gupta, vice president food and nutrition brand management, Sodexo. “The popularity of the Meatless Monday initiative demonstrates the fact that it indeed can be done through education combined with great tasting plant-based menu options.”

Sodexo launched its Meatless Monday initiative in January 2011 in the company’s health care, government and corporate divisions as part of its ongoing effort to work as a strategic partner in meeting client objectives for sustainability, health and wellness and support for local communities. The program included new plant-based options and communications material that educated diners on the benefits of eating less meat and more vegetables. According to the survey of 245 sites, the Meatless Monday program helped accomplish several important Sodexo goals.  87 percent of respondents noted that it demonstrated Sodexo’s commitment to health and 71 percent reported that it made vegetarian options more appealing.

One of the most significant findings was that 49 percent of food service directors who implemented the Meatless Monday program saw an increase in purchases of vegetables during the promotion and 30 percent saw a decrease in meat purchases, which shows the potential of Meatless Monday to shift consumers toward more plant-based options.

“Small steps toward making healthier and more sustainable food choices, like the ones called for in Meatless Monday, can have an enormous impact when implemented on a large scale by companies like Sodexo,” said CLF Director Robert Lawrence, MD. “Reducing meat and increasing vegetable consumption has a host of positive benefits for our health and can ease our footprint on the environment by conserving fresh water and energy.”

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, global food and animal production is responsible for a significant percentage of human contributions to climate change and it is also a substantial source of both water use and pollution worldwide. Just switching from a single hamburger to a plant-based option can decrease an individual’s environmental impact by a factor of six or greater.

A growing body of research also suggests that even a modest reduction of meat and saturated fat in the diet can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and certain cancers and increase longevity.  Meatless Monday helps encourage people to try nutrient-rich alternatives to meat, such as, beans, whole grains and leafy greens – setting a pattern for the week that can sustain healthy diets over time.

The survey also found that the program was simple to start and had staying power. Of the 74 percent who offered Meatless Monday, the majority of providers, 76 percent, said that the campaign was “easy” or “very easy” to implement and 65 percent said they will continue to promote the campaign with an additional 24 percent noting that they may continue.

The research showed that the majority of sites did not see an adverse effect on retail sales while there was a net positive in consumer response.  One account saw a 5 percent improvement in customer satisfaction as a direct result of the Meatless Monday program and noted that customers were willing to pay as much for meatless entrees as for those containing meat.

The survey also indicates opportunities to improve future health promotions. Sodexo’s implementation of the Meatless Monday program was most successful among health care clients who placed greater importance on the health benefits of reducing meat consumption. More focus on education about the health benefits of Meatless Monday has the potential to increase adoption rates and consumer satisfaction in other sectors.

“Sodexo was one of the early leaders in the Meatless Monday movement, which is now in 22 countries and embraced by celebrities like Mario Batali and Oprah, restaurants, bloggers, students and entire communities,” said Peggy Neu, president, The Monday Campaigns. “Sodexo demonstrated that consumers can be ‘nudged’ toward healthier options when novel recipes that appeal to the eye and the palate are coupled with education and weekly promotions.”