Produce shines as restaurant menus get healthier - The Packer

Produce shines as restaurant menus get healthier

03/19/2014 05:02:00 PM
Tom Burfield

If you have any doubt that restaurant menus are offering more healthful fare through increased fresh-cut and value-added produce offerings, consider these developments:

Longhorn Steakhouse has added brussels sprouts au gratin to its menu and says the offering has become its most popular side dish. In January, the company rolled out butternut squash risotto.

The Cheesecake Factory is looking to build meals around kale, brocholini and even rainbow carrots.

Parmesan roasted asparagus with balsamic glaze turned out to be the top-selling selection when Olive Garden recently tested a new “small plate” menu.

McDonald’s announced this fall that it is partnering with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, founded by the Clinton Foundation and American Heart Association, to increase customers’ access to fruit and vegetables and help families and children to make informed choices in keeping with balanced lifestyles.

The incidence of vegetables on menus has risen more than 11% in the past three years, according to research firm Technomic. Kale, cauliflower and zucchini were listed as standouts.

“Different preparation methods, like roasting brussels sprouts or caramelizing root vegetables, have had a big influence on the way vegetables are menued,” Darren Tristano, Technomic executive vice president, said in a news release.

“Approximately 80% of consumers believe it is important for restaurants to feature more produce,” Maeve Webster, senior director at Datassential, wrote in a guest post on PMA’s Xchange blog. “And operators are anticipating the future of produce as well: 82% believe produce will be important to their operation in the next few years.”

Produce suppliers say they, too, have noticed the healthy-eating trend at foodservice.

“Definitely, a lot of menu trends are to lighter, healthier choices,” said Brent Scattini, vice president of sales for Gold Coast Packing Inc., Santa Maria, Calif.

Many chains that have used individually quick frozen products are starting to look more to the fresh side, he said.

Creativity among chefs has played a big role in getting more healthful items on menus, said Mike O’Leary, vice president of sales and marketing for the fresh-cut division of Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, Calif.

For examples, brussels sprouts, which rarely appeared on menus 10 years ago, now turn up grilled, oven baked, shredded and even in fresh salads, leading to a large national foodservice brussels sprouts program for Boskovich Farms.

Doug Meyer, vice president of sales and marketing for West Pak Avocado Inc., Murrieta, Calif., said he is “thrilled” with the reception the company’s avocados have enjoyed at foodservice.

“We are seeing interest and menu development across all segments of foodservice,” he said, from fast food to fine dining.

“We’re seeing a lot of avocado slices, cubed and diced in a number of applications — even on appetizers,” Meyer said.

Kathleen Preis, marketing coordinator for the Mushroom Council, San Jose, Calif., attributed some of the movement toward more healthful menus to social media, which have sparked “a kind of international dialogue about where food comes from and how healthy food is.”

“For the Mushroom Council and for produce in general, it’s a great opportunity as produce is continuously featured more and more center of the plate,” she said.

Commodity boards like the Mushroom Council and suppliers are working with restaurants “to create delicious options for consumers so they don’t have to sacrifice flavor,” she added.

“I think there are more healthy options being offered by multiple restaurant chains,” said Bob Hale, president, chairman and chief executive officer for River Point Farms, Hermiston, Ore.

But he added that just offering healthier alternatives may not be enough for a restaurant’s financial health.

“Time will tell whether they are profitable,” he said. “There have to be profits at the bottom line or you won’t be in business.”



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