Nearly three out of four restaurant operators (72 percent) said emphasizing fresh produce in their marketing efforts drives more customers to their restaurant, according to new research presented at the Produce Marketing Association's (PMA) 2009 Foodservice Conference & Exposition, July 24 in Monterey, Calif. Additionally, 46 percent of restaurant operators said they look for fresh produce items that their customers can not buy at their supermarket. The study was conducted by the National Restaurant Association and PMA as part of a joint project that also included the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA). The research highlighted 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 indentify new opportunities to serve our guests more fresh produce options on restaurant menus nationwide," said 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."
Other report findings include:
- 67 percent of restaurant operators wish they had more options regarding fresh produce selections
- 60 percent of operators said they wanted more information on how to incorporate fresh produce on their menu.
- 41 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.
Food safety remains a top priority for restaurant operators.
- 89 percent of operators said they are willing to pay more for their fresh produce if its safety is guaranteed
- 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
The research set the stage for the "Executive Think Tank: Summary and Discussion" at the PMA conference July 25 featuring top executives from across the supply chain. A closed-door "Executive Think Tank" was held July 24, at which senior foodservice and produce industry leaders reviewed the operator research, prioritized forces that could make the greatest difference on the use of produce in foodservice and identified strategies to help the supply chain address those priorities.
During the session, produce and foodservice industry leaders set a goal to double the use of fresh produce in the foodservice sector over the next 10 years, and identified five strategies for doing so. The strategies are:
- Re-imagine the restaurant experience, with produce having a stronger presence and telling its story from field to fork;
- Increase consumer confidence in fresh produce, including product safety, trust and integrity;
- Demonstrate social responsibility, balancing the needs of people, the planet and profitability;
- Foster closer collaboration among the industry sectors, including operators, distributors and grower/shippers; and
- Foster closer collaboration with government and other stakeholders.
A report summarizing the operator research and think tank's recommendations will be published by the associations and distributed to their members this fall.