Leaders from Produce Marketing Association (PMA), National Restaurant Association, and International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA) have joined forces on a multi-phase project to identify opportunities to increase fresh produce use in foodservice to promote healthy lifestyles.

The joint project will begin with a comprehensive research project, led by the National Restaurant Association with assistance from produce industry leaders, to examine the opportunities and barriers for greater produce use in the foodservice sector.

Those research findings will then be used as the starting point for facilitated discussions of a first-ever “Executive Invitation Think Tank” of top executives representing restaurant, distributor and produce supplier segments. That first discussion will be the basis for ongoing, high-level dialogues within the foodservice and produce sectors to promote increased collaboration.

“The restaurant industry has a strong commitment to providing our guests a variety of healthful menu options on our menus, and fresh produce plays an important role in a balanced diet,” said National Restaurant Association President and CEO Dawn Sweeney. “Working with our supply chain partners to identify ways in which we can expand these options will be of great benefit to the dining public, as well as to restaurant and foodservice businesses. Our research shows that locally grown produce and healthy kids’ meals with vegetable and fruit side items are among the hottest trends on restaurant menus right now.”

“As a critical partner in getting fresh fruits and vegetables to operators throughout the nation, foodservice distributors welcome the opportunity to bring their perspective to this important discussion,” said IFDA President and CEO Mark Allen. “Distributors play a vital role in supporting nutrition programs with their customers and this effort by the industry to enhance nutrition provides meaningful solutions for America’s consumers.”

The research project is underway and the Think Tank’s discussion—to include senior executive operators, distributors and produce suppliers –will take place July 24 in conjunction with PMA’s popular annual Foodservice Conference and Exposition, to be held July 24–26 in Monterey, California.

The research findings and highlights of that discussion will be presented by a panel of project participants at the conference’s opening general session. The associations also plan to publish a joint report summarizing the research and the July think tank discussion.

“By combining unique research with high-level dialogue across the foodservice supply chain, we are positioning fresh produce as a solution to improved nutrition as well as enhanced profitability,” said PMA President and CEO Bryan Silbermann. “Armed with the research needed to make informed decisions, and working together across the supply chain, we can all benefit enormously by learning together. This is a landmark moment for our associations and our members to identify greater opportunities for produce in foodservice.”

Sponsorship for the project is being provided by Markon Cooperative, a foodservice buying organization based in Salinas, California.

“The Think Tank research, discussion, and subsequent analysis are important due to the tremendous opportunities that produce represents for foodservice,” said Markon Cooperative President Tim York. “We look forward to participating with other distributors, operators and suppliers in this event, which promises to benefit the entire fresh produce supply chain.”

Facilitation of the Think Tank and development of the report will be provided by Kerry Tucker of Nuffer, Smith, Tucker in San Diego.

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