A Strategic Approach to Introducing Produce Items to Large Foodservice Operations

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the Menu

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the MenuP‬utting more produce on the plate has been a long-time goal for members of The Culinary Institute of America Healthy Menus R&D Collaborative‭. ‬In fact‭, ‬this strategic priority was one of the first two identified by operators when the Collaborative was formed in 2010‭. (‬The other was sodium reduction‭.) ‬Foodservice operators recognize fresh produce offers many nutrition and health‭, ‬as‭ ‬well as business‭, ‬benefits‭.‬

Research from Chicago-based Datassential shows consumers view foodservice operations that feature fresh produce in their advertising or on menus and menu boards as more committed to customers’‭ ‬health and well-being than restaurants that rarely feature fresh produce‭. ‬Fresh produce is a positive health cue for consumers‭,‬‭ ‬even if perception doesn’t match reality‭.‬

If your company wants to sell more produce to large foodservice operations‭, ‬it will take more than a desire to grow your business‭. ‬You need a strategic approach and partners who can help with the research and relationship-building needed to be successful‭. ‬Here are five critical questions to consider‭.‬

Who are the right partners to bring on board to help develop strategy and relationships‭?‬

Does your team already have an experienced foodservice marketer‭? ‬If not‭, ‬hire one‭, ‬either as a consultant or a full-time employee‭. ‬What works for retail may make little sense for a foodservice customer‭. ‬Having a foodservice expert on your team with existing business relationships can help make introducing new produce items to foodservice easier and more successful‭.‬

What strengths can you offer a foodservice customer‭?‬

Do you have an internal R&D team that can take on any customer challenge and offer a solution‭? ‬Do you have custom packing options for foodservice units that need smaller volume‭? ‬Do you work with distributors who can deliver smaller loads more often to foodservice operations with limited storage space for perishable ingredients‭? ‬Do you have culinary experts on your team who can work‭ ‬with the customer’s menu R&D team to develop new produce-centric menu items‭? ‬Do you have multiple growing regions‭, ‬or do you specialize in local growing and sourcing‭? ‬Some customers may want local or regional sourcing while others may demand broader sourcing that protects them from supply chain issues caused by Mother Nature‭.‬

If your company wants to sell more produce to large foodservice operations, it will take more than a desire to grow your business.

What foodservice companies are your best targets‭?‬

Do you want to generate media excitement around a new produce item with limited supply‭? ‬Then stick to upscale‭, ‬fine dining operations where a limited supply of specialty produce items is not an issue‭. ‬Do you have a new produce item for which you want to test consumer acceptance‭? ‬Consider partnering with campus dining operations that can put new items on their menus much more quickly than large chains‭. ‬Do you have a new produce item that could bring a lot of excitement to a tired menu category‭? ‬For example‭, ‬can you provide pre-cut fruit‭, ‬including excellent melons‭, ‬for fruit cups that deliver premium flavor‭, ‬adequate shelf life and a‭ ‬competitive price‭? ‬

What new or improved produce items can you offer a foodservice customer‭?‬

Do you have a new produce item‭, ‬or are you offering a foodservice customer a solution to a current shelf-life‭, ‬packing issue or‭ ‬labor issue‭? ‬Do you have the right volume to meet your target customer’s needs‭? ‬Are you offering seasonal or year-round sourcing‭? ‬While some foodservice operations love limited time offers‭ (‬LTOs‭), ‬many others prefer menu offerings‭ (‬and ingredients‭) ‬that fit with their menus year-round‭.‬

Do you have a story to tell that pairs well with your target customer’s brand identity‭?‬

As consumers express more interest in where their food comes from‭, ‬having a good story to tell is a very valuable asset‭. ‬Many foodservice brands are shaping their brand identities with values that resonate with their customers‭. ‬Are you a family owned company‭? ‬Do you use unique growing practices that promote sustainability‭? ‬Are you committed to superior quality and premium produce‭? ‬Are you investing in R&D to bring produce to market that has superior taste‭, ‬flavor or nutrient profiles‭? ‬Give a potential foodservice customer a chance to tell your story as part of their story‭, ‬especially if it relates to the new produce item you’re trying to sell‭.‬

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. ‬You can learn more about her business at farmersdaughterconsulting.com, ‬and you can follow her insights on food and flavor on Twitter‭ ‬@AmyMyrdalMiller‭.‬