Produce takes the plate

06/07/2013 11:13:00 AM
The Packer Editorial Board

Where it was once a side dish or afterthought, fresh produce continues its steady march toward center of the plate at foodservice.

Food marketing forecast group Technomic has research that suggests vegetarian items on restaurants’ menus increased by nearly a quarter from the first quarter of 2012 compared to the same time period this year.

The Technomic report mentions Noodles & Co. offering a limited-time menu featuring dishes highlighting asparagus as the main ingredient and Burger King’s rollout of a veggie burger dressed with lettuce, tomatoes and red onions.

Subway — a trendsetter in pushing the envelope for fresh vegetable use in the quick-service environment — is promoting its oven roasted chicken with spinach sandwich as June’s featured footlong, according to the company’s website, and it continues to promote avocados.

Wendy’s restaurants are again offering berry almond chicken salads, buying 2 million pounds of strawberries and 1 million pounds of blueberries from through September for the seasonal salads.

National restaurant chains aren’t alone in increasing fruit and vegetable menu options.

Institutional feeding operations such as school cafeterias are coming around as well.

In the fall, elementary school cafeterias in the San Diego Unified School District plan to offer meatless menus on Mondays.

To begin each week, menus will focus on plant-based foods, including vegetable lasagna, baked potatoes, grilled vegetable paninis or tofu and vegetable stir-fry.

U.S. diners and foodservice companies alike are both waking up to fresh produce’s potential — for a healthful diet and a healthy bottom line.

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