According to new research presented at Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) 2009 Foodservice Conference & Exposition on July 24 in Monterey, California, foodservice operators are finding several manners in which to use fresh produce. Conducted by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and PMA as part of a joint project that also included International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA), the research highlighted that foodservice operators focus on produce’s expanded options, sourcing, and food safety.
“Our new research lays the foundation to move forward with our collaborative efforts to identify new opportunities to serve our guests more fresh produce options on restaurant menus nationwide,” says NRA president and CEO Dawn Sweeney. “Nutrition and food safety are key issues to our industry, and working with the produce and distributor industries will enhance both.”
The research on fresh produce in foodservice shows that restaurant operators see fresh produce as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition. Nearly three out of four restaurant operators (72 percent) said emphasizing fresh produce in their marketing efforts drives more customers to their restaurant. In addition, 46 percent of restaurant operators said they look for fresh produce items that their customers can not buy at their supermarket, including 78 percent of fine dining operators.
Some 67 percent of restaurant operators also said they wish they had more options regarding fresh produce selections, while 60 percent of operators said they wish there was more information on how to incorporate fresh produce on their menu. Forty-one percent said they expect to serve more fresh produce in the next two years, while 56 percent said they expect to serve about the same amount.
Restaurant operators also look at sourcing of fresh produce, with 77 percent saying they prefer to purchase domestically grown fresh produce, and 56 percent of survey respondents serving locally sourced produce in their restaurants.
Food safety remains a top priority for restaurant operators. Eighty-nine percent of operators said they are willing to pay more for their fresh produce if its safety is guaranteed, and 76 percent of operators said they are willing to pay more for fresh produce if it is traceable all the way up the supply chain.
“This research gives us tremendous insight into where we should focus our efforts to increase use of fresh produce in foodservice, which benefits everyone that touches the plate, with the ultimate beneficiary being the end consumer,” says Bryan Silbermann, PMA president and CEO.