Operators have some concerns with adding more produce. They are unsure how produce sales will impact the bottom line, concerned about price fluctuations with produce, and inconsistent ripeness issues in some produce.

Webster says the foodservice industry needs to shift from produce sales aimed mostly at a-la-carte items or side salads to main course fare as consumers are moving away from a-la-carte purchases.

“The real opportunity is to look for ways to use produce on the menu beyond sides and salads,” Webster told the foodservice crowd.

Why the stronger interest in produce? Webster says consumers associate produce with physical health and wellness. Operators want more menu items with produce since it demonstrates to customers that the company cares about the health and wellness of its patrons.

Produce is also gaining favor due to the increasing popularity of farmer’s markets and the local food movement. Consumers are more exposed to produce than ever before.

Which meals can garner a larger menu share for produce – breakfast, lunch, or dinner? Produce is typically consumed for lunch and dinner. Operators are missing the boat at breakfast. Webster calls breakfast a “missed opportunity.”

“There are many ways to use produce in breakfasts, including breakfast sandwiches, omelets, skillet creations, re-inventing Eggs Benedict, pancakes, crepes, and waffles.”

Another place where produce can gain market share is kid’s menus. While McDonald’s offers apple slices instead of French fries in its Happy Meals, most operators do not offer produce for children.

“The whole (foodservice) industry needs to seriously look at kid’s menus. I believe produce can play a great role,” Webster said.

Sandwiches are a menu item already gaining traction with produce. Over the last 5-10 years, Webster says a “great renaissance” in sandwich consumption has occurred.

For operators, burgers are not only about beef, cheese, garnish, and the bun. Operators are adding eye- and taste-bud-popping garnishes including avocado, mango, roasted bell peppers, mushrooms, corn, and arugula to create piled-high sandwich sensations.

In turn, this can lead to profitability across the produce food chain.