Chefs, food companies and foodservice operators are continuing to nudge consumer food choices in a more healthful, sustainable direction, according to the “7th Menus of Change Annual Report,” released by the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, N.Y., and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health—Department of Nutrition, Boston, Mass. The report details the progress the foodservice industry has made over the past year.

“Overall, as the 2019 Menus of Change Dashboard shows, restaurant and foodservice leaders are making steady progress in their efforts to offer Americans better food choices, while also wrestling with increasingly complex risks from climate change, water scarcity, lack of visibility into supply chains and other environmental factors that make our supply chain more brittle and less predictable,” the report says. “Our industry has shown great innovation in accomplishing this shift, and importantly, consumers have shown great appetite for such innovation.”

This year’s report points to continued efforts in public health, the environment and the business of food.

“The 2019 report acknowledges that change can require sustained effort before seeing a large payoff,” the report states. “Scores for the majority of the essays in the report held steadfast in the past year, albeit with progress noted for fruit and vegetable consumption.”

Plant-forward moves forward

On the issue of fruit and vegetable consumption and production, the foodservice industry has shown “good progress, with room for more,” over the past 12 months.

“While consumptive data does not yet show an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption, interest among trend-leading chefs, large non-commercial foodservice operators and their customers in plant-forward menus, including fruits and vegetables, is surging,” the report says.

Chefs and food companies are creating dishes made mostly or entirely from plants, and plant-forward offerings from mainstream food brands and fast-casual concepts are making plant-based eating more accessible and achievable for a wider swath of U.S. consumers.

“The vast amount of attention, innovation and investment happening in this sector is cause for hope that consequential shifts are on the horizon,” the report says.

Progress toward water sustainability is just a drop in the bucket

While the progress made toward greater produce consumption is a bright spot in this year’s report, water sustainability is one of the areas that needs the most attention in the years to come. Water sustainability is the only one of the dozen issues tracked by Menus of Change that hasn’t seen any improvement in its score over the past four years. In fact, since the 2015 report, the score for water sustainability has been holding steady at “getting better, but far from where it needs to be.”

“From recipe design to equipment to food sourcing, including a greater emphasis on plant-based ingredients, the foodservice industry has many opportunities to adopt innovative solutions to reduce the water footprint of its menus and within its operations,” the report says.