(April 3) McDonald’s has is salads, apples and grapes. Wendy’s has its mandarin slices, salads and other healthy items available in place of french fries.

Burger King Corp. recently had a go with innovation in some test markets, with its Apple Frypod, sliced apples, which have the same look and same packaging as fries.

That’s just a taste of what’s possible for fresh-cut produce in the fast-food arena, said John Toner, director of convention sales for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

“I think it will be more important than ever as time goes along,” Toner said. “You see McDonald’s and Wendy’s and the fast-food and causal dining take off with their salad varieties, and that places more demands on regional processors. It’s about volume with processors.”

Fresh-cut produce, while it has made gains, still is more potential than reality in the quick-serve restaurant realm, however, said Joe Caldwell, vice president of Watsonville, Calif.-based Monterey Mushrooms Inc.

“There’s been very little,” he said. “We have made some gains over the years, and there are several that continue to have portabella burgers and things like that are part of their menu, but I haven’t seen that grow in the last year or so. We’re still working with them on that side.”

Ramping up value-added products is crucial for any foodservice business, but even more important for fast-food customers, Caldwell said.

“In the fast-food industry, you have to have things ready to go,” he said. “There’s little prep in the store. So it’s a little different challenge for them.”

Monterey always has an eye for the potential profits to be made in the quick-serve marketplace, Caldwell said.

“We have a products division that is continually working with them on things in that area,” he said.

Rick Harris, president and general manager of Sunkist Taylor LLC, said his company is hoping to bring its fresh-cut fruit into the quick-serve restaurant category.

“That’s definitely a goal,” he said. “When you see kids eating fruits over potato chips, it just makes you feel good.”

And kids, as fast-food consumers, would benefit greatly from any increased supplies of fresh-cut produce in those eateries, Harris said.

“I know as we create new products and particularly as we develop better packaging and longer shelf life, it will make it that much more available to the kids,” he said.