“Consumers have demonstrated over and over a willingness to pay more if you give them a reason to feel like they are getting their money’s worth,” Webster told the foodservice group.

“Consumers will pay more if they believe it is better quality, a fresher item, and something that is interesting - up to a point.”

Pizza is another item where produce is adding tantalizing pizzazz. Popular new toppings include fresh arugula, potatoes, and roasted butternut squash.

Other fruits and vegetables gaining favor with consumers and operators include kale, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, oyster mushrooms, and pickled vegetables.

At fine dining establishments, the use of kale by chefs is up nearly 50 percent. Other popular items include lima beans and Medjool dates. In casual dining, hot produce tickets include kale, Brussels sprouts, and roasted carrots.

“Roasting not only changes the flavor but it changes its visual appeal,” Webster said.

Other produce foods gaining acceptance include: ghost peppers, one of the hottest peppers on the market; and trumpet mushrooms, a new player in the mushroom category used in chicken and pasta dishes.

More produce footholds include the classic fruit kumquat; the fruit quince used as a paste, the salsify plant root, plus chayote squash used in Southwestern, Mexican, and Asian cuisine foods.

Beets, yuzu fruit, cipollini onions, pumpkin, sweet potato fries, Habanero pepper, pomegranate, and edamame are also gaining traction in food circles.

Americans have a growing connection with their food supply, in part tied to online food photography, television cooking shows, and social media.

“More and more consumers are communicating with photos on Facebook and other photo-sharing applications,” Webster said. “Produce photos are gorgeous. People now communicate more with pictures than with words.”

In addition, the word ‘fresh’ is a popular buzzword with consumers.

“Fresh sells,” Webster said. “Consumers want to believe that something is fresh – either fresh from the farm or made fresh for them.”

About 85 percent of all menus have at least one item identified as fresh.

cblake@farmpress.com

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