Across EU countries 20-45 % of food is consumed outside the home such as in restaurants, fast food chains, hospitals, canteens and schools. With over 500 million consumers, the food service market has a significant impact on demand for legumes and the market demand is increasing. If only 1 in 20 meals served in food services included peas, beans, lentils or chickpeas the market volume would quickly assume many tons per year. This makes the food service market appealing for producers of frozen vegetables, canned beans, processed legume-based products, and fresh produce.
In Denmark and Sweden, there is a strong demand for organic food and meat-free options. For example, in many canteens in the public and private sector, there is a freshly prepared salad bar every day. Here pulses like beans and chickpeas, and vegetables like peas and beans are common ingredients. Another trend is to cook with basic ingredients; this points to a demand for pre-cooked pulses or fresh produce ready-to-serve. Ensuring a high level of food safety is a key aspect, so industrially produced products with food safety certifications which make it easier to prepare “home cooked food” are in high demand. Particularly in the more equipped canteens (e.g. in the financial sector or government), skilled chefs are responsible for preparing the daily lunch. This leads to a high level of “food professionalism” and creativity to experiment with new raw materials, including pulses.
Vegetarian and vegan menus are gaining stronger footholds in the European restaurant scene. More restaurants in European cities are displaying vegetarian or vegan food in outlets ranging from small take-away places to restaurants in the fine dining segment. It is an evidently strong trend which caters to the lifestyles of the modern consumer: the option to choose a vegetarian or vegan menu.
This case study carried out analysis about how supply chains to the food service market are structured and how suppliers of legumes and pulses could engage in the supply chains. Information for the analysis was collected from interviews with staffs responsible for purchasing food items in restaurant chains, public procurement and contract caterers. Despite representing different segments in the food service market, the responses in the interviews point in the same direction: a strong focus on greening the menus to provide alternatives to meat-based dishes. Examples of new menus and trends in the restaurant scene were identified from European trade magazines.
Important findings include that the procurement processes used by restaurant chains and contract caterers were closely linked to contractual agreements with major wholesalers. This was also the situation for procurement in public food services. For a supplier of legumes, this being frozen vegetables, dried pulses, canned or processed legume-based foods, the wholesalers are a very important and strategic access point to the supply chain. Innovative products are always in demand among food service actors and wholesalers can spur innovation by, for example, establishing collaboration with growers for specialty crops, or collaborating with food processors for new products. The food service market is looking for pre-prepared products so here is a huge opportunity for thinking of legumes and pulses used in new foods and drinks.