KANSAS CITY, MO. — With more than 6,000 attendees adjusting to new federal school food rules mandating more fruits and vegetables, the 2013 School Nutrition Association’s 67th Annual Nutrition Conference attracted its share of produce marketers willing to supply that demand.
The July 14-17 event attracted a variety of fresh produce exhibitors, including Chiquita Brands International, Dole, the Pear Bureau Northwest, Taylor Farms, the National Watermelon Promotion Board, Grimmway Farms, Sun Pacific and the Mushroom Council.
“It’s been extremely busy,” said Lauren Hattersley, sales and marketing representative for Taylor Farms California Inc., Salinas. Hattersly said the firm came to the show with several new products, including a broccoli slaw and a light Caesar’s salad in bulk and individual packs. The firm also unveiled a carrot snack with cinnamon seasoning.
Grimmway Farms has exhibited at the show for more than 15 years, said Lisa McNeece, vice president of foodservice and industrial sales at Grimmway Enterprises Inc., Bakersfield, Calif. She said the growing produce presence — a group of exhibitors on “Produce Row” — demonstrates the rising influence of fruits and vegetables at the event. Grimmway highlighted the availability of yellow organic baby carrots and mixed orange and yellow shredded carrots.
“Many of the school foodservice directors and seek us out because they know they are going to find healthy options here,” she said. “With all the new regulations, there are so many opportunities for us to provide healthier snacks to all these schools and vending companies,” she said.
Lorelei DiSogra, vice president for nutrition and health at the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., said a July 14 workshop on increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in schools had more than 200 attendees. Speakers included Chef Tim Cipriano from Connecticut and Robert Lewis, director of nutrition services for El Monte City School District in California. DiSogra said the pair talked about strategies to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, including taste tests/focus groups with students, engaging students’ families, training foodservice staff and effective implementation of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.
DiSogra said the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools program remains a hot topic for schools.
“The momentum for salad bars just keeps increasing all the time,” she said. “I think right now we have 700 schools on the waiting list (for salad bar grants) nationwide and we’ve seen a tremendous interest by foundations in supporting this effort and we will be doing a lot of outreach to health foundations over the next couple of months.”
The School Nutrition Association show is a great opportunity to provide education to school foodservice users of pears, said Cristie Mather, director of communications for USA Pears, Milwaukie, Ore.
“Over the past two years we have collected over 300 new foodservice contacts that we keep in contact with throughout the year,” she said. At the expo booth, Pear Bureau staff demonstrated pear merchandising practices. Mather said top-performing schools put whole pears or sliced pears in the salad bar and serve them with complimentary items like yogurt, cheese or nut butter, raisins and sunflower seeds.
Next year’s School Nutrition Association show is in Boston. Hattersley said the traffic at the Kansas City show warrants a return for Taylor Farms.
“We will definitely be back,” she said.