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The Evolution of Dining: The post-pandemic future

There’s no minimizing the pain the foodservice industry endured for the last year and a half, but the pandemic paved the way for innovation and changes in how we select, buy, package, deliver, cook, and consume food.

“Despite the challenges of 2020, we’re hopeful for the restaurant world,” says Jill Overdorf, director of business development for Naturipe Farms, LLC BB #:165382 in Salinas, CA, “especially after witnessing many of their creative and innovative efforts.”

“While it’s been sad to see so many small business owners suffer,” says Emily Kohlhas, director of marketing for wholesaler John Vena, Inc. BB #:104221 in Philadelphia, “there’s been a lot of magic, too. Initially, demand shot up for basic items with a long shelf life like potatoes, onions, and apples, but declined for high-value specialties like microgreens and baby vegetables. It’s been a tough year for growers who focus on those products.

“As wholesale partners, we’ve done our best to find markets for our specialty growers. Retailers have started to get back into specialty as consumers recreate their favorite restaurant meals at home. Specialty has been slower to revive in foodservice, with chefs still focusing on using as few items as possible across their menus to minimize the risk of shrink.

“Ultimately,” Kohlhas continues, “flavor and healthfulness are the best things the produce department has going for it. While we see produce or produce-adjacent categories topping many food trend lists, the numbers suggest fruit and vegetable consumption in the United States is stagnant. If we’re going to change this in the future, the narrative has to be about flavor and health.”

“As we emerge from the challenges of the pandemic, I’m optimistic,” says Don Goforth, marketing director of Family Tree Farms Marketing, LLC BB #:169364 in Reedley, CA.

Better yet, he sees momentum in more fresh produce being incorporated into meals at home.

“Once restaurants are fully open, fresh produce and healthy diets will stay. No one’s been happy about what we all had to go through, but there is a silver lining—we’ll probably come through as a better society, eating better, and with better health habits.”

This is an excerpt from the cover story of the July/August 2021 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the whole issue.