Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

Flavor at Work Business & Industry innovation shines a spotlight on an evolving consumer

Variety and wellness are the focus in B&I menu development. Aramark delivers with dishes like Chicken & Grape Power Salad, Pumpkin Curry Vegetable Sauté and Harvest Kale Salad.

High-quality dining programs emerged at businesses years ago in a few markets, like the tech industry, as one way to reel in prospective talent, sweetening the job package with the promise of really good food conveniently on site.

Today, upgraded dining programs are no longer unique to niche job segments like Silicon Valley. Other industries have seen the benefit of using innovative food programs to attract and retain the best and the brightest in their fields.

Companies are enlisting foodservice providers—like Sodexo, Aramark, Bon Appétit Management Company, CulinArt Group and AVI Foodsystems—to redesign their dining programs, making them competitive not just in the cafeteria space, but in the food landscape overall.

The result is a rising number of on-trend, forward-thinking dining programs in the Business & Industry (B&I) sector. A look at what’s trending here is a smart way to gain insight into the modern consumer’s dining and flavor preferences. Thanks to an increasingly food-centric culture, the average employee is more informed than ever about food trends, ingredients and nutrition, bringing higher expectations and an enthusiasm for global dishes into the workplace.

And as B&I foodservice providers work hard to meet their clients’ needs, they’re raising the bar for consumer expectations in other areas of foodservice, too.

Good Food

The biggest overarching trend in B&I is the demand for wholesome foods. Employees at these companies want the food that’s most convenient to achieve their health goals.

Each provider we spoke with boasts a health-and-wellness program with transparent menus that mark dishes with words like “Mindful” or “In Balance” to indicate healthy meals, fresh produce and high-quality ingredients.

For the employer, providing healthy food is a smart fiscal strategy to mitigate healthcare costs: “Healthcare costs have skyrocketed so much, a lot of companies want to include wellness as part of the office,” says Tony Morro, category manager of Food, Hospitality and Office Services at JLL, a Sodexo partner at Bristol-Myers Squibb’s (BMS) Lawrenceville, N.J., cafeteria, which averages 991 transactions per day.

The emphasis on healthy food in B&I speaks to the same overarching trend in foodservice around mindful eating: balancing feel-good food while maintaining a flavor standard.

Changing It Up

Another throughline at these forward-thinking cafeterias is variety. “We’re trying to feed the same people five days a week,” says Morro, “so variety is significant.” Dan Wainfan, associate VP of health & wellness at Aramark, says that its B&I clients rotate in new restaurants to keep guests interested. David Boyle, an executive chef at Sodexo who oversees food services at BMS, says pop-ups are a great way to fight repetition and introduce employees to new menu items. In many company settings, on-site cafeterias are competing with local restaurants, so variety is not only necessary to keep employees satisfied, but to keep them on site, sharing ideas over lunch.

Bon Appétit client Adobe gives employees a wide range of choices, from veg-centric to global cuisine to sustainable ingredients.

Bon Appétit client Adobe gives employees a wide range of choices, from veg-centric to global cuisine to sustainable ingredients.

Food as experience that promotes guest engagement is another theme tying these programs together. Business cafeterias are continuing to move food prep out of the kitchen and into action stations, where chefs cook directly in front of guests, answering questions and furthering transparency. As an added bonus, “Guests are more patient when they see that the product is being prepared in front of them,” says John Higgins, national client executive at Sodexo and the account lead for BMS. When diners see high-quality ingredients being prepared firsthand, Higgins says they assign more value to their meal. Certainly, this is mimicking the broader foodservice industry, with more open kitchens in both casual and fast-casual restaurant settings.

While coffee shops are a ubiquitous way to bring employees together, some companies are taking the experiential element of food and drink to the next level by installing bars on site. A number of Aramark clients have bars that serve nitro beer, cocktails, and wines on tap, while others use mocktails or root beer floats to add an on-trend sociable element to foodservice offerings.

Asian Influence

Asian dishes boast a clear presence at on-trend B&I cafeterias, where items from distinct countries offer diners variety within the cuisine. Korean influences abound, with Sodexo, Bon Appétit and AVI Foodsystems all recently merging Korean ingredients with Mexican preparations (as in Korean beef tacos, quesadillas and burritos).

Sodexo’s BMS account also has a permanent sushi station, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Café 303 in Pasadena, Calif., a CulinArt Group account, has recently menued Thai dishes such as a Thai Salmon Wrap and a Thai Beef Curry.

On-trend poke is also available at these B&I eateries, which signals a sea change throughout foodservice, where a marinated raw fish gets serious play now. BMS offers several poke dishes in addition to a build-your-own option, reflecting consumers’ demand for customization. Offerings have included the House Classic, which combines tuna and salmon with seaweed, scallions, sesame seeds, shoyu, tomatoes, cucumbers, radish, avocado and tobiko, as well as a wasabi cream dressing.

Bon Appétit client Adobe in San Jose, Calif., menus a poke sushi “burrito” featuring sushi rice in a seaweed wrap, showcasing a fun, approachable play on the trending dish.

B&I chefs are also dedicating menu space to Indian cuisine. Adobe, which averages 2,000 daily lunch transactions at its San Jose, Calif., headquarters, has invested in a tandoor oven to feature authentic offerings like Rogan Josh, combining goat meat with fennel and ginger in tomato sauce, and Aloo Bhindi Masal, with potato and okra in bhindi masala gravy.

Pasquale LaRocca, director of strategic marketing and branding at AVI Foodsystems, whose B&I clients include Amazon, FedEx and Progressive Insurance, says his clients are increasingly offering Indian-style burritos, customized turkey or tofu keema, and Indian-style vegetables in roti flatbread.

Aramark showcases on-trend global flavors with its Korean Chicken Ciabatta.

Aramark showcases on-trend global flavors with its Korean Chicken Ciabatta.


Veg-Centric Flourishes

Leaning into their farm-fresh and healthy initiatives, companies are following the industry trend of moving vegetables into the limelight with flavor-forward technique and ingredient combinations.

Meatless entrées, like Sodexo’s Quinoa- and Kale-Stuffed Sweet Potato and Bon Appétit’s Chili Cheese Tofu, deliver menu alternatives. Vegetables have also landed starring roles in sandwiches, as in Adobe’s tempeh hash sandwich, which packs mushrooms, spinach and sun-dried tomato pistou into a pita, and BMS’ Roasted Beet and Pistachio Sandwich.
Salad bars offer an increasing variety of options, presenting both composed salads and a diverse spread for customized salads. David Boyle mandates that the salad bar at BMS include four varieties of lettuce, eight varieties of raw fruits and vegetables and three composed salads.

Businesses are also giving indulgences like pizza a farm-fresh makeover. Bon Appétit recently featured an Apple and Brie Flatbread with caramelized onions and chopped kale. Sodexo’s Rustic Vegetable Wheat Pizzetta packs spinach, zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms and red bell peppers into each bite. Of course, side dishes are an easy way to deliver flavorful vegetables, like AVI’s lime-chipotle red-skinned potatoes and CulinArt’s curried cauliflower.

To promote engagement, some businesses feature a different vegetable each week or month, educating guests on the health benefits and offering tasty ways to experience the item. AVI Foodsystems, for instance, uses its Produce 365 initiative to encourage employees to try a certain vegetable in cafeteria dishes and experiment with the vegetable at home.

Whole Grains Power

“The definition of wellness and healthful eating is certainly changing,” says AVI’s LaRocca. As people get more knowledgeable about nutrition, he says they’re less interested in low-calorie or low-fat foods and more interested in nutrient-dense whole foods, a trend that’s been gaining momentum throughout foodservice for the last few years. Business cafeterias are meeting this demand with more ancient and whole grains across the menu.

From 2015 to 2016, more than 10 percent of the dishes served at Aramark cafeterias across all sectors had whole grains as a leading ingredient. Aramark has partnered with the American Heart Association to achieve a 20 percent increase in whole-grain menu penetration by 2020. As consumers become more familiar with grains like farro and amaranth, their expectations are shifting, and many will seek them out with more frequency.

Chefs are making easy substitutions, like switching in whole-wheat pasta, or offering brown rice instead of white. At BMS, Boyle pairs pretzel-crusted salmon with wild rice, and Jet Propulsion Lab’s Café 303 offers a side of brown rice with peas and almonds. Quinoa remains a grain power player across menus, but it’s starting to share the spotlight with emerging grains like farro, freekeh and bulgur.

Chefs are enticing consumers to try a new grain via something familiar, like Sodexo’s Whole Wheat Penne Pasta with Greenwheat Freekeh Meatballs. Others play it straight, such as Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s plain bulgur wheat side.

Composed salads offer an appealing way to present healthy grains, like Adobe’s Spinach Salad with Toasted Farro and Feta Cheese, while salad bars provide plenty of whole grains for customers to experiment and customize with choices like quinoa, wheat berry or whole-wheat couscous.

Served at Adobe’s offices, this black-eyed peas salad with snow peas, mustard greens, corn, orange, pumpkin and sunflower seeds displays the innovation found today in forward-thinking B&I cafeterias.

Served at Adobe’s offices, this black-eyed peas salad with snow peas, mustard greens, corn, orange, pumpkin and sunflower seeds displays the innovation found today in forward-thinking B&I cafeterias.

Beneficial Beverages

Consumers everywhere are moving away from sugar-based drinks to healthier beverages, and they’re bringing along high standards. From juice bars to coffee bars, diners in the B&I segment want what’s trending and wholesome, and basic just doesn’t cut it anymore.

In the last year, BMS has added more than 100 multi-faceted coffee machines to breakrooms in its five Connecticut and central New Jersey locations.

Diane Pancoski, associate VP of marketing at Aramark, says its clients have canned cold coffees, infused waters, cold-pressed juices and even kombucha on tap.

At Adobe in San Jose, the coffee bar offers espresso drinks, matcha green tea lattes, pour-over coffees and specialty coffees like Japanese-style iced coffee, which achieves maximum flavor by brewing double-strength coffee with hot water over ice cubes.

B&I cafeterias are using aguas frescas and infused waters to innovate in the beverage category. Adobe has offered cantaloupe- and lime juice-infused water, and Peter Klein, director of culinary development at CulinArt, cites cinnamon- and orange-infused water among client offerings.

Terri Brownlee, Bon Appétit’s director of nutrition and wellness, says Bon Appétit has made aguas frescas a standard offering at client cafés; employees can count on three or four versions daily.

Substantial Snacks

Now that snacking is an established part of most Americans’ daily routine, providing wholesome choices that fuel employees becomes an expectation. But the trend here, as in all of foodservice, sees flavor as an imperative.

Tony Morro of Sodexo’s JLL says nuts and trail mixes that combine nuts and fruit are on the rise, especially in bulk dispensers that reduce waste and cut costs. Aramark’s Pancoski also sees a rise in nut consumption but says, “It’s not just an almond anymore, it’s a smoked almond or a Sriracha almond.” Olives and pickles are also enjoying expansion and innovation, driven by flavor pairings that elevate the snack’s craveability and satiety.

While the afternoon trip to the vending machine for a candy bar may be waning, employers are remixing desserts with a healthy, purposeful twist to satisfy the sweet tooth. AVI’s LaRocca points to caffeinated chocolates as a rising trend in snacking among his clients, while Sodexo has developed 100-calorie cookies made with quinoa, flax and nuts to deliver indulgence with a wholesome twist.

B&I has become a dynamic segment reflecting many of today’s overarching menu trends. This segment is also crystallizing how important it is to respond to changing habits and preferences of modern consumers.

The Case for Ugly Produce

According to Mintel, 51 percent of Americans are willing to buy “ugly” produce—those imperfect-looking but perfectly flavorful fruits and vegetables.

B&I decision makers are also purchasing ugly produce to counteract global waste problems and fulfill their sustainability goals. Both Bon Appétit Management Company and CulinArt Group participate in owner Compass Group’s Imperfectly Delicious Produce program to encourage their clients to source ugly produce. From second-cut spinach to blemished cauliflower, the program has saved millions of pounds of produce that would have gone to waste.

“We’re going to chop it up and turn it into something else,” says Peter Klein, director of culinary development at CulinArt Group.

Using ugly produce also makes employees happy, as today’s workforce demands transparency not only for nutritional content, but also its origin and environmental impact.

4 Ways to Implement Healthier Menus

by Terri Brownlee, Director of Wellness, Bon Appétit Management Company

1. Make healthful choices the easy (or default) choice

Instead of offering two Margherita pizzas—one made with whole-wheat crust and one made with plain crust—offer only one with whole-wheat crust.

2. Do some of the work for the consumer

Use stealth nutrition practices like adding sweet potatoes and kale to comfort food indulgences like macaroni and cheese.

3. Offer lean proteins, plentiful vegetables and whole grains

Diners in B&I want to eat well; set them up for success by providing the right ingredients.

4. Make it customizable

Healthy means different things to different people. Offer customizable dishes so that guests can meet their nutritional needs individually.


At AVI, conscious effort goes into highlighting different produce each month and promoting healthy lifestyles.

At AVI, conscious effort goes into highlighting different produce each month and promoting healthy lifestyles.

Poke Bar Build Guide

Poke bowls are trending in workplace settings. Bristol-Myers Squibb employees can customize their poke with an abundance of possible combinations.

Poke bowls are trending in workplace settings. Bristol-Myers Squibb employees can customize their poke with an abundance of possible combinations.

Poke’s menu penetration grew 446 percent from 2005 to 2015, according to Datassential, and poke concepts are opening left and right.

To stay on-trend and keep employees on campus for lunch, David Boyle, executive chef of Sodexo, who oversees Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Lawrenceville, N.J., cafeteria, uses the following build guide to offer BMS employees customizable poke dishes:

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About The Author

Laura Brienza

Laura Brienza is the author of "Discovering Vintage Washington, D.C.", and "New York’s Historic Restaurants, Inns & Taverns." She is a recent winner of the Lifetime Writers Project fellowship and lives in Los Angeles.