CERRITOS, Calif. — School cafeterias are creating new business opportunities for every segment of the produce industry, Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for United Fresh Produce Association, told several dozen produce suppliers and others during a Dec. 12 workshop.
Tom BurfieldLorelei DiSogra (from left), vice president nutrition and health for United Fresh Produce Association, and Russell Boyd, director of sales for Sunrise Produce, talk about school nutrition with Chris Puentes, president of Interfresh Inc., prior to a workshop on produce sales to schools sponsored by United Fresh and the Fresh Produce & Floral Council Dec. 12. By capitalizing on the new U.S. Department of Agriculture school nutrition regulations and the push for salad bars in schools, the industry can come out ahead in terms of increased sales while fighting childhood obesity and improving students’ health, she said.
DiSogra was joined by representatives of five Southern California school districts and a produce supplier at the workshop on Opportunities to Drive Produce Sales to Schools.
The event was co-hosted by the La Mirada-based Fresh Produce & Floral Council.
High demand, changes in marketing
Everyone must “jump into the trenches together” to help boost consumption of fruits and vegetables, DiSogra said.
Demand for produce is being driven at the school level by policy changes, such as the new school nutrition regulations, new funding, the addition of more salad bars in schools and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, she said.
Nationwide, 101,000 schools are implementing the new USDA standards, DiSogra said.
Schools that comply receive an extra 6 cents per meal.
California alone will receive $11 million for the current school year, and nationwide, more than 7,000 schools will share $163.5 million, she said.
“There is a very huge change in school lunches,” DiSogra said.
Representatives from five school districts told workshop participants how they’re trying to boost produce consumption.
“It’s all about marketing,” said Robert Lewis, director of foodservices for the El Monte City School District.
He described how he replaced the concept of baby carrots with “X-ray vision carrots” to appeal to younger students.
The district incorporates nutrition and health education into existing courses — such as social studies and language arts — holds special events like kids cooking camps and chef in the classroom, and sponsors nutrition advisory clubs.
Schools buy local
The Lynwood Unified School District holds farmers markets twice a year at each of the district’s nine elementary schools, said Cathy Tang, director of child nutrition services.
Students are given $2 worth of coupons and allowed to buy whatever fruits or vegetables they want.