Ohio’s restaurateurs in general are more interested than ever before in offering more healthful menu items, said Jarrod Clabaugh, director of communications for the Ohio Restaurant Association, Columbus, and fresh produce is an important part of that trend, he said.
Ohio’s restaurants represent big business in the state, with sales of $16 billion predicted for 2011, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2011 Restaurant Industry Forecast. The restaurant and foodservice industries this year employed nearly 525,000 people, the report said.
Fast-food restaurants’ addition of apple slices as an alternative to fries continues to affect the produce industry.
The availability of apple slices at McDonalds, for example, helps teach young children to make healthier food choices, and it helps promote fresh produce as a snack alternative, said Erv Pavlofsky, principal of business development at ProduceOne, Dayton, Ohio.
Clabaugh says he’s noticed more restaurants offering healthful fresh produce options on their children’s menus. As an option to macaroni and cheese, for example, some are offering steamed vegetables.
Restaurants that offer breakfast also are incorporating more fresh produce in their menus, Clabaugh said.
With an expanding variety of fresh fruits and vegetables available year-round, chefs can experiment with different items to add interest to menus.
A common way to tweak an existing menu item is to change the accompanying produce item, Clabaugh said.
Ohio’s chefs also are more frequently replacing center-of-the-plate meats or seafood with less-expensive fresh produce in an effort to reduce costs, Clabaugh said.
Vegetarian and vegan offerings are increasingly popular in Ohio’s urban areas, he said.
“More are moving to organic and vegan menus or at least having items on their menu,” Clabaugh said.
In Columbus restaurants, value is important, said Ben Roth, chief executive officer at Columbus-based Roth Produce Co.
Restaurants that properly put together a plate and offer it at a good value are those that are doing well, he said.
Tom Sirna, president of Cleveland-based Sirna & Sons Produce, says there’s a trend toward smaller portions in restaurants.
Some upscale casual dining restaurants, in an effort to keep customers coming in, are offering more economical options on their menus.
Sirna said there have been fewer new restaurant units opening and more underperforming restaurants of all types closing in the Cleveland area.