The U.S. produce industry just may yell a couple of ‘hallelujah’s’ over new survey results which suggest a revival is underway in the fruit and vegetable industries.

Consumers want to eat more fruits and vegetables and expect restaurants and other foodservice entities to place these foods front and center on menus.

Surveys of about 4,000 consumers nationwide and 600 foodservice operators conducted by Datassential in May and June conclude that ‘produce’ is now a hot food item. Foodservice operators are getting the message and plan to roll out more produce on menus soon.

Foodservice operators, or ‘operators’ for short, include away-from-home food establishments, including restaurants, universities, hospitals, lodging, catering, and others.

“The survey data says about 80 percent of consumers want restaurants to feature more produce on the menu,” said Maeve Webster, senior director of Datassential, Chicago, Ill..

“This is a fundamental shift in what (foods) consumers will eat away from home. It’s not just a fad.”

 DataDatassential is a research and consulting firm specializing in the food industry. Webster spoke at the 2013 Produce Marketing Association Foodservice Conference held in Monterey, Calif. in late summer.

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The survey results are good news for produce growers and others in the fruit and vegetable supply chain. While produce is marketed as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, sales of fruits and vegetates have remained flat overall until the last several years.

Operators are heeding the call to put more produce on consumer’s plates.

“More than 80 percent of operators plan to use more produce and have it become more important on their menu within the next two years, not five to 10 years,” said Webster. “Many operators believe produce can help drive sales and traffic. In some cases, produce can help drive profit margins.”

Operators also view produce as healthy foods and an opportunity to offer consumers more choices and variety. Webster says foodservice is an extremely competitive business. Anything a company can do to set itself apart from the competition is key.