Introducing New Produce Items To Foodservice

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the Menu

I have two new clients‭, ‬both focused on introducing new produce items to foodservice operations in the United States‭. ‬This work is‭ ‬providing many new opportunities for me to collaborate with other experts‭, ‬engage with foodservice and culinary colleagues in new ways‭, ‬and think obsessively about how to overcome their challenges‭. ‬

One client produces seed for a widely recognized commodity product‭, ‬but few people appreciate the diverse and often-unique sensory and nutrition properties of the many varieties they sell to U.S‭. ‬farmers‭. ‬The farmers are eager to gain a competitive advantage by growing a new variety that may create excitement for chefs as well as consumers‭. ‬

The vegetable they grow is taken for granted‭, ‬and it’s challenging to find ways to get chefs and foodservice menu R&D leaders to take the time to specify a certain variety‭. ‬But if we find ways to do that‭, ‬our next challenge is to ensure the supply chain protects the integrity of these unique varieties with proper handling and the right labeling‭. ‬We can’t make promises to chefs or consumers about unique sensory or nutrition attributes only to find our product has been comingled with a vegetable that looks nearly identical but lacks the great flavors and other attributes the breeders have spent a decade or‭ ‬more perfecting‭.‬

My other new client is growing a vegetable that few in the United States have ever heard of‭. ‬Their product has a strong brand name suggestive of the region of the world where this vegetable was discovered‭. ‬They want to first introduce this super vegetable‭ ‬to campus dining operations as an ingredient that can enhance the nutrition properties of nearly any food or beverage‭. ‬This strategy is a great fit because they face awareness challenges‭. ‬Campus dining operations can provide unique educational opportunities to increase awareness of what the vegetable is‭, ‬how it is grown‭, ‬and its unique nutrition properties‭, ‬as well as provide tasting opportunities that help overcome the fear of paying for something the diner may not like‭.‬

The Gen Z college students seem to be particularly price-sensitive even though for many they’re not paying with their hard-earned money‭; ‬they’re paying with their parents’‭ ‬money or using student loan funds‭.‬

I’m blessed to work with a collaborator on behalf of one of these clients who has significant foodservice experience as a top-level decision-maker‭. ‬Jeff Miller is the former vice president of product innovation for Dunkin’‭ ‬Brands‭. ‬In this role‭, ‬he worked with vendors and suppliers to find ingredient solutions and new products that would fit Dunkin‭ ‬&‭ ‬Baskin-Robbins’‭ ‬quick-service operations at more than 20,000‭ ‬restaurants around the globe‭. ‬Today‭, ‬Jeff runs Cutting Edge Innovation‭, ‬a consultancy focused on helping clients apply competitive insights‭, ‬culinary knowledge and consumer trends when developing world-class products‭.‬

Jeff knows first-hand what foodservice leaders need from companies offering a new ingredient or product‭. ‬They need solutions‭, ‬not ingredients‭. ‬They need partners‭, ‬not purchase orders‭. ‬They need innovation that suits their operation‭. ‬And they need price points that fit their brand promise‭. ‬“When you get the opportunity to meet with a new foodservice customer‭, ‬don’t waste their time trying to sell them‭. ‬Spend that precious time developing the relationship and discovering their needs‭,‬”‭ ‬says Miller‭. ‬“One of my favorite questions is‭, ‬‘What is the biggest challenge for you right now‭?‬’‭ ‬It allows the person to reflect on where he or she needs help‭, ‬and it allows me the opportunity to determine if the product or‭ ‬ingredient I’m representing can be the solution this person needs‭.‬”

What final advice does Miller have for produce industry leaders trying to introduce new produce items to foodservice operations‭?‬‭ ‬“Be prepared to ask the right questions about the volume‭, ‬value-added attributes and distribution model this customer needs‭. ‬And‭ ‬be ready to walk away if this is not the right time or the right fit‭. ‬People in the foodservice industry tend to move around a lot‭. ‬Developing the relationship will likely pay off for you in the long run‭.‬”

Amy Myrdal Miller‭, ‬MS‭, ‬RDN‭, ‬FAND is a farmer’s daughter from North Dakota‭, ‬award-winning dietitian‭, ‬culinary nutrition expert‭, ‬and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting‭, ‬Inc‭.  ‬She is the director of The Culinary Institute of America Healthy Menus R&D Collaborative and a consultant for the Produce for Better Health Foundation‭. ‬You can learn more about her business at‭,‬‭ ‬and you can follow her insights on food and flavor on social media‭ ‬@AmyMyrdalMiller‭ ‬