The International Fresh Produce Association’s (IFPA) Foodservice Conference in Monterey, California, has as one of its main objectives to promote fresh produce as a favorite food among the next generation of consumers: children.
The two-day conference, which ends July 29, is attended by a record number of nearly 900 buyers and is joined by a new segment of professionals, K-12 school menu planners from some of the nation’s largest school districts.
This new segment represents school district menu planners, chefs, and procurement professionals. They are attending the Foodservice Conference as part of the K-12 School Forum, which includes special programming to connect school participants with the produce industry, help them explore new products, and better understand the fresh produce supply chain.
“We are welcoming an exciting new audience segment to this event, so we have K to 12 food service professionals joining us from all over the country, representing some of the largest school districts in the nation. They are large volume buyers who serve tens of thousands of meals to children every day,” said Cathy Burns, CEO of IFPA, in an interview with Abasto.
“So, what’s great about this event this year is it’s an incredible opportunity to reach our youngest consumers at a time where we can really help shape both comfort levels and taste preferences in these young children for years to come. These are our future consumers, so that’s important,” Burns noted.
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For his part, Andrew Marshall, IFPA’s staff liaison for wholesaler-distributor members and lead staffer on engagement with the K-12 school nutrition community, said that each school day, nearly 31 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program, with individual school districts serving meals to tens-of-thousands of children each day.
“We look forward to welcoming this important community of buyers and creating opportunities for them to connect, share and learn about the industry while getting ideas about new ways to introduce and excite students with fresh produce,” Marshall said.
Over the years, the Foodservice Conference has been the premier venue for fresh produce and the foodservice industry to meet to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to the restaurant menu.
“It’s the only event in the world where food service and fresh produce come together for a couple of days, so it’s a unique and pivotal venue for us when we talk about driving consumption in restaurants and schools,” Burns said.
The pandemic particularly impacted the restaurant sector, generating an incredible reaction of resilience, creativity, innovation, and change, not just from how consumers are served but what is served.
According to Burns, there has been a global awakening to the role food plays in health, so while consumers are looking for more fruits and vegetables in their meals, inflation rates are making other protein options more expensive. Therefore, putting more fresh produce on the plate is not only necessary but urgent if you look at the financial models of some restaurant operators. “Wouldn’t it be great if produce was the centerpiece on the menu and proteins the garnish?” entertained Burns.