The average college student spends $4,500 on meal plans every year, according to The Hechinger Report, but for thousands of students looking for healthier or more sustainable meals, relying on university meal plans and institutional cafeteria food has proven difficult. Until now! Aramark –– the largest food service company in the United States –– just announced plans to increase its vegan offerings on college menus by 2025.

Aramark is teaming up with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to increase its plant-based selections at over 250 colleges and universities nationwide. The company intends to make its plant-based selection make up 44 percent of its total offerings.

“Aligned with our existing responsible sourcing commitments, this new target represents another step on our journey toward net zero emissions,” Alan Horowitz, vice president of sustainability at Aramark, said in a statement. “Increasing plant-based proteins, while decreasing animal proteins, is a major factor in helping us reduce food-related emissions and is responsive to changing consumer dietary preferences.”

By increasing its plant-based offerings, Aramark is supporting its mission to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 by 2030. Currently, the college campuses partnering with Aramark feature menus with 26 to 30 percent plant-based options. After 15 years of partnership with HSUS, the company intends to improve its plant-based distribution and development even further.

College Students Want Vegan Food

About 23 percent of 18-to-25-year-olds maintain a vegan or vegetarian diet, according to the Innova Health & Nutrition Survey. With Aramark's increased effort, college students all across the United States will have better access to affordable plant-based foods, most often included in the meal plans offered by universities. The HSUS will also provide educational materials including recipes, marketing support, culinary training programs, and menu ideas for staff members.

Aramark's announcement closely follows the company's commitment to the World Resource Institute's Cool Food Pledge. This pledge highlights the environmental cost of ingredients, encouraging companies and institutions to develop plant-forward alternatives. Aramark tested this program at 10 universities during the spring 2022 semester but plans to roll out the Cool Food Meals to 1,500 dining facilities in January 2023.

University Adopting Plant-Based Menus

Aramark provides nearly 2 billion meals to universities, hospitals, and other major institutions across 19 countries every year. By implementing plant-based programs, the company can reduce the environmental cost of food at universities worldwide. With 61 percent of food-related greenhouse gas emissions associated with animal-based products, these programs aim to protect the planet from the worsening climate crisis.

Aramark is joined by several other major food distributors helping make college campuses more environmentally friendly and healthier. This April, major food producer Sodexo announced that it would increase its plant-based offerings at U.S. universities by 42 percent by 2025. This September, Sodexo started this plant-based transition at Liberty University in Virginia, replacing South Street Cheesteaks with the vegan and gluten-free concept The Hungry Herbivore.

Sodexo found that 70 percent of its carbon footprint was attributed to its animal-based food selection. With goals to cut its carbon emissions by 34 percent, the company made partnerships with several plant-based and food tech brands, including Israel-based SavorEat. The company launched a plant-based vending robot, designed to prepare burgers made with plant-based ingredients.

By introducing plant-based meals to university students, these companies are helping educate younger consumers on healthier eating habits. One study found that following a plant-centered diet from 18 to 30 lowers your risk of heart disease 30 years later. These new meal programs make plant-based eating accessible to consumers at an earlier, more pivotal age.

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