School foodservice officials asked to serve more fresh produce to their students found willing allies at the United Fresh Produce Pavilion at the School Nutrition Association’s annual conference in Boston.
For the July 13-16 event, the United Fresh pavilion had 1,600 square feet, featuring 12 exhibiting companies and a space for networking, said John Toner, vice president at United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.
Some of the exhibitors in the Produce Pavilion had exhibited at the SNA show have been there for many years, including HMC, Grimmway Farms and Pear Bureau Northwest. Four new companies were added to the United Fresh Produce Pavilion.
Toner said engagement with school foodservice professional was valuable.
“It was good for us to understand some of the challenges when it comes to communication and the challenge of how we can work better with school districts,” he said. For example, institutional buyers for school districts often don’t specify what types of apples (or other produce) they want, whether grade, count size or variety. That can leave what is delivered lacking in appeal.
“It was good for us to hear some of the challenges that the school districts have in terms of finding information in terms of to better spec product,” Toner said.
Toner said every major school district stopped by the pavilion. Executives of some of the largest school districts visited with each other about sourcing fruits and vegetables. Toner said the biggest challenge he heard about was finding quality products at a cost the school districts can afford.
The “Ask the Experts: Produce Solutions Center,” sponsored by PRO*ACT, features produce distributors from around the country including, Costa Fruit & Produce, Inc., Charlestown, Mass., Hardie’s Fruit & Vegetable Co., Houston, Texas, Muir Copper Canyon Farms, Salt Lake City, Utah, Royal Food Service, Atlanta, Ga., and Van Eerden Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.,Produce experts helped school officials find answers to their produce-related questions, share guidance and tips for writing produce request for proposals, discuss how to establish business relationships between schools and produce distributors and showcase the wide variety of fresh and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables that are ideal for school foodservice, United Fresh officials said.
The Produce Pavilion also had a fresh vending machine stocked with single-serve, fresh-cut fruits and vegetables that got a lot of social media attention, said Lorelei DiSogra, said vice president of nutrition & health at United Fresh. United partnered with the National Automatic Merchandising Association to have the Fit Pick vending machine on display.
“It was an illustration of a whole new way that schools can do vending,” she said.
School officials were interested in how they could deliver even more fresh produce to their students.
“I feel like we really helped and we really showed them things that can take them even further along,” she said.
Exhibitors at United’s Fresh Produce Pavilion include:
- Chiquita Brands International
- Duda Farm Fresh Foods;
- Grimmway Farms;
- HMC Farms;
- Mushroom Council;
- National Watermelon Promotion Board;
- Pear Bureau Northwest;
- Ready Pac Foods; and
- San Miguel Produce