A corporate chef's panel during the Produce Marketing Association included Shona Jonson (from top left, clockwise) Chick-fil-A; moderator Kevin Ryan, International Corporate Chefs Association; Curt Seidl, Morrison Healthcare; and Donald Moore, The Cheesecake Factory. ( Courtesy PMA/screencap Amy Sowder )

The world has changed for Morrison Healthcare, which provides food for more than 750 hospitals and healthcare systems nationwide, but the hospital cafes never closed.

Visitors are now barred, but the foodservice operations continue to feed hospital staff.

“We’re back to basically where we were in March and April. We relied a lot on self-serve stations like salad bars, but now our items are grab-and-go. We rely more and more on pre-cut products,” said Curt Seidl, vice president of culinary support for Morrison, on a panel of corporate chefs at the Produce Marketing Association’s Foodservice: Delivered virtual conference. 

Seidl and chefs from Chick-fil-A and The Cheesecake Factory discussed challenges in using fresh produce at foodservice operations and what they need in the future.

Kevin Ryan, CEO of the International Corporate Chefs Association and Global Culinary Innovators Association, moderated the panel.

Seidl said he’s seeing a lack of shelf life and consistency in his fresh produce orders.

Fresh produce is the highest food cost at The Cheesecake Factory, comprising 5% of the total costs, said Donald Moore, chief culinary officer and executive vice president of kitchen operations.

“Personally, the faster the shorter-shelf stuff can be cut overnight and dropped off in the morning the better for us, rather than extending shelf life,” Moore said.

Ryan said he’s seeing a demand for better quality more than ever across the board, since the coronavirus struck.

“The customer base is so much more discerning, and right now, their quality standards are higher,” Ryan said.

However, convenience is still a key selling point for produce procurement.

Chick-fil-A didn’t have enough blueberries for a fruit cup on the menu until finding companies that offered pre-washed blueberries, “which saved us time and labor,” said Shona Jonson, senior manager of menu development. “They updated their packaging, which was a huge sustainability initiative, and they brought those ideas to us, and those are the types of partnerships we want.”

The three chefs said they want to know about innovations in products, now more than ever, if it’s tailored to their company’s needs, can be available consistently and has distribution capability.

Moore said he would rather speak to the person producing the item rather than a liaison because it saves time and provides the transparency and clear communication he needs. 

“There are products that are new that have good storytelling, that are delicious and good marketing opportunities on social media,” Moore said. “If anyone has good products to share, let us know. The farmers know the products. Share away if you’re willing to.”

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