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On-site foodservice: How hospitals, colleges and other operators are leveraging food trends

5 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

(Photo: Central Table)

While restaurants get a lot of the attention when spotting industry trends, on-site foodservice segments like hospitals, colleges and universities (C&U), and business and industry (B&I) have become trend powerhouses in their own right, modernizing segments that haven’t always been known for their dining and retail options. In total, Datassential estimates that on-site foodservice operators spent over $65 billion last year and we project strong growth for the future.

At Central Table in St. Louis, Mo., you’ll find sushi, tapas, specialty coffee and a craft beer and cocktail bar in the 10,000-square-foot food hall. There are street tacos on the lunch menu, lobster tortellini with sorrel and za’atar spiced zucchini with candied kumquats on the dinner menu, and four upscale toast options at the café. It has become a true St. Louis dining destination – quite a feat considering it’s technically a hospital dining room. Situated on the first floor of the Barnes-Jewish Center for Outpatient Health, the operation caters to both the community and hospital visitors and staff; the head chef makes appearances and teaches techniques throughout the hospital system, while the restaurant can also function as a sort of central commissary and create dishes for other hospital dining outlets.

Here are a few trends to consider when targeting these segments, based on recent TrendSpotting and Keynote reports.

Fresh and healthy

The culinary team at Central Table is always mindful of its place in the hospital system, working to ensure that they can further the hospital’s wellness mission, chef Cary Neff told St. Louis’ Riverfront Times. It’s not just the hospital administrators who are pushing healthy missions – 91% of consumers want fresh fruits and vegetables in hospitals, the top-scoring option we tested in Datassential’s “Creative Concepts: Hospital Foodservice.” When choosing a hospital for themselves or family members, 84% said healthier options were important to them.

Fresh, healthy options are a recurring theme for nearly every on-site segment – they are top-of-mind for many consumers and are typically one of the top-scoring concepts that we test, while operators seek out ways to bridge the “what consumers want vs. what consumers purchase” gap. Google uses behavioral science to steer employees toward healthier options, exemplified by the oft-repeated story of how the company hid candy in opaque containers while prominently displaying nuts and dried fruits, resulting in a drastic drop in candy consumption.

According to our issue of “Creative Concepts: B&I Foodservice,” releasing next week, 73% of consumers are interested in having healthy snacks available at work, the top-scoring concept. On-site operators are always on the lookout for appealing comfort foods that they can feel good about serving, and that consumers can feel good about eating.


Consumers love to customize. “The more personal and customizable the options, the better,” one college student told us. When choosing a hospital, nearly 80% of consumers said customizable options were important to them, while 70% of consumers were interested in customizable options at work – concepts like build-your-own sandwiches or create-your-own smoothies. In response, on-site operators are adding a seemingly endless number of fast casual concepts, allowing customers to choose their own formats (noodles, rice, salad, broth), proteins and toppings for burritos, burgers, Asian noodle bowls, fast-fired pizzas, etc.

Go global

It’s not just burritos and noodle bowls showcasing international flavors – segments that may have once defined “international” as a side of french fries now showcase daikon radishes and gochujang. “In the future, we hope to upgrade our international station so that we can change the menu on a daily basis in order to not only offer Asian infusions, but also other internationals fusions, like Mediterranean or Italian-inspired dishes,” one university decision-maker featured in our Keynote Report: C&U told us. The changing demographics of the student population alone are driving more global options in the C&U segment.

At Cleveland Clinic, nearly 6 million annual patient visits and 50,000 employees means the hospital serves an enormous variety of tastes and diets. They’ll find plenty of options at the hospital’s flagship, wellness-oriented restaurant, C2 Cultural Cuisine, with a menu inspired by European, North African, Middle Eastern, and other Mediterranean countries. Appetizers include Catalan shrimp with orange zest, while the dinner menu includes options like cioppino and salmon in an orange anise broth.

While on-site segments are incorporating many of the trends found throughout the wider industry, they also pose their own challenges, many of which are unique to each individual segment. Hospitals may need late-night options for third shift workers, for instance, while a B&I operator may require more grab-and-go options for busy employees (nearly 1 in 5 employees says they have less than 30 minutes to eat lunch, and an additional 15% don’t take a lunch break or work at their desk, according to our research). To successfully grab a piece of this $65 billion-and-growing industry, ask about Datassential’s wide variety of on-site tools and research, from our soon-to-be released 2016 PULSE report, tracking what on-site decision-makers think and need, to our MenuTrends database covering menus at over 1,000 K-12 schools, colleges, hospitals, and long-term care facilities.

Mike Kostyo is the senior publications manager at Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry. For more information about any of the reports or services mentioned in this article, contact Kostyo at [email protected].


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