Last year's Eurest Lunchtime Report found that one in three workers is concerned about fat and calorie intake; while the most important factor in choosing lunch is taste, followed by health, price and quality.
With this in mind, Aramark launches its "Just 4U" food service programme in the UK this month. The programme, which has been trialled extensively in the USA, divides menu choices into the following headings: Low Fat, Heart Healthy, Carb Counter, Cal Smart, Vegetarian, and Vegan.
In a survey of 100,000 US college students conducted by Aramark, 24% said vegan dishes were important to them, while 18% wanted low-carb dishes on the menu.
Sodexho also believes that functional foods, such as those that help reduce cholesterol, will be an increasing feature in 2005.
Contract catering giant Compass reckons that a desire for healthy fresh foods means that in 2005 more clients will want juice and smoothie bars.
The grab-and-go and snack market will continue to develop, and there will be a need to create more healthy hand-held snacks - these are becoming more significant in terms of their menu share and spend. Eurest's report revealed that almost half of workers fork out £3.10 a day on snacks, considerably more than they pay for lunch - on average, just £2.02 a head.
Working lunches have changed over the years from four-course affairs to ones involving minimal disruption. But they also need to provide enough food to help busy executives make it through an all-day meeting.
Rob Kirby, group executive chef for Avenance, reckons that service formats that are easy to set up and clear away will become even more popular in 2005.
This means that sharing platters of hot or cold items, such as mini-kebabs or sushi, and bowl food will continue to be favourites, along with hot items that can be served in small steamer baskets. Bento boxes won't be used just for Japanese fare, he says, but for other choices as well, such as Caprese salad and seared red mullet.
Ian McAndrew, culinary director of the In House Catering Company, predicts that dried fruit, nuts and muesli bars will replace biscuits during breaks.
Kirby also points to the success of Pret A Manger's take-away sandwich service, showing that for some clients the humble sarnie remains at the top of the pile.
He also warns caterers not to miss out on the growing demand for breakfast food to accompany breakfast meetings. Watch out in 2005 for a new phenomenon in City offices - detox breakfasts, which include fruit or herb shots.
Global flavours will continue their march on menus. In particular, watch out for Latin American dishes, which will be a "hot" flavour this year, according to Aramark, which will run a Brazilian promotion early in the year. Sodexho reckons it has identified a growing interest in Mexican and Thai dishes, and Compass division Restaurant Associates plans to expand menus to offer North African and Caribbean food.
In suitable units, Aramark will run a Fairtrade Fortnight in March and an Organic Festival later in the year. Compass business development director for business and industry, Debi Siegenberg, agrees that Fairtrade is becoming increasingly important for many major clients. Some Government contracts require Fairtrade to be part of the offering.
Both large and small contractors think that although customers are interested in organic food they are still not prepared to pay extra for it. Neither Sodexho nor Blue Apple will be focusing on organic in 2005.
Blue Apple introduced a totally organic salad bar at the request of one client last year, but the response was average. Joint managing director Ruston Toms says customers continue to mistake the imperfect appearance of organic produce for inferior quality.
Food service companies will increasingly run concession units in universities, hospitals and visitor attractions, often in parallel with staff-feeding contracts.
Use of e-procurement will continue to grow, with both contractors looking to buy products and clients looking to tender contracts online.
John Wright, Sodexho's service offer marketing director, says the company will continue to expand its policy of sourcing locally wherever possible in 2005.
Many businesses when outsourcing will increasingly look to tender their catering services along with other products, such as cleaning, security and reception.
Restaurant Associates has a new branch, RA Business Services, which provides other services such as reception, switchboard, help desks and meeting rooms. "We have already gained new contracts within our existing client portfolio, and we will build on this success in 2005," says Restaurant Associates managing director Philip Nash.
In response to the high cost of office space, a new, sophisticated hot-food vending service is expected to hit the market in 2005.
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