Nourishing business

Expert Opinion News World
Nourishing business

CMW welcomes IACC CEO Mark Cooper who kicks off the first in a series of columns from the international venue association. There is plenty of nourishment in this inaugural article.

Food and wellness-based trends throughout the globe can be fleeting by nature; however we’re seeing an unprecedented increase in them and they may be here to stay. In recent months I have delivered live educational events in Asia, Europe and the Americas and all report increased priorities for health and wellbeing.

IACC’s report Trends in Nutrition & Delegate Wellbeing, published in autumn 2017, helps us understand the trends that are impacting venues, event planners and, most importantly, delegates. While acknowledging positive changes to the industry, the report also confirmed there is still a way to go to ensure delegates are receiving the best culinary experience.

Trickle down trends

Consumer trends filter down and are adopted into the meetings industry, so, it’s no surprise that the rise in vegan/vegetarianism has impacted the food offering in venues. A prime example of this is in Los Angeles, where restaurants are making vegetables the main course, with protein the optional side order, a complete role reversal. 

According to our report, in which we surveyed a mix of IACC conference venues, meeting planners and culinary experts around the globe, 78% of venue operators believed venues should be proactive in promoting wellbeing. This is a sign that venues are acknowledging the need to lead from the front, rather than waiting for customer demand to set change in motion. The survey also revealed that 87% of venues had made changes to menus in response to trends.

James Flaherty from Babson Executive Conference Center, Massachusetts, said his centre had moved most of the sugar and fat laden foods, such as biscuits, and replaced them with seeds and nuts, fresh fruit and vegetable-based snacks.

Some simply introduced smaller portions. And many now incorporate gluten-free as a standard option

Calories, culture & feedback
It’s crucial that venues prioritise the needs of delegates and provide them with information to make informed decisions about the food they’re consuming. Wouldn’t it be great if delegates could use their fitness app to scan the labelled foods at their event and know how calorific their meal is and the salt intake?

Today, delegates have become accustomed to a variety of cultural cuisines. Venues have recognised this and introduced ‘hybrid food infusions’; by merging cuisines from different cultures, improving delegates’ experiences by providing variety at every meal.

Feedback from planners shows a consistent direct link between good food and attendee satisfaction. And a lack of accommodation for dietary needs from venues remains the top challenge.

With 79% of venue respondents saying they receive more dietary specific requests than they did two years ago, what can venues do to make the experience easier for planners? Michelle Fruzyna, director of catering at Q Center, Illinois, said her organisation now included allergy and dietary questions in their registration process.

The industry is often tarnished by sweeping statements about the quality (or not) of dining at conferences. While there are certainly some venues that play into the hands of these critics, there are also plenty that do understand and see the culinary element of their product as an important element of the meetings experience.

If your venue is not delivering, then maybe it is time for a change

Read Mark Cooper’s column in the latest edition of CMW, Issue 94, here