Cancel OK

Keeping produce at the front of plant-based

As the foodservice industry experiments and embraces plant-forward trends, fresh produce companies have a responsibility to make sure those plants are fruits and vegetables.

During a Produce Marketing Association BB #:153708 Town Hall virtual event Dec. 1, advisors from the Culinary Institute of America said economic trends favor fresh produce.

“We teach people [from produce companies] to be trusted advisors” to restaurant buyers, said Brad Barnes, a director at the Culinary Institute of America. “Know who your customer’s customers are. [Preparing] plants need different training and skills. You have to be good with knives. Make plants simpler and easier to adopt.”

Greg Dresher, a vice president at the Culinary Institute of America, said produce companies need to make sure their people are trained on how to prepare fruits and vegetables in foodservice so they can teach the chefs.

“People making plant-forward recipes don’t always know how to make them delicious,” Dresher said.

Barnes said independent operators are more time-pressed than anyone in foodservice, so produce companies have to help them be creative with plants.

“It helps our people understand what ‘good’ is,” he said. “Our diverse staff doesn’t always know” how a prepared vegetable is supposed to taste.

Foodservice has faced many challenges during the pandemic, from closures, to dropping demand to labor problems, but both Barnes and Dresher are optimistic for restaurants.

Dresher said technology is improving so restaurants don’t need as much labor, and the ones who are there can do higher skilled tasks.
He also said the freshman class at the CIA this fall was the largest in history.

Barnes said all the challenges have put a higher emphasis on flavor, which fruits and vegetables do naturally.

On the other hand, consumers have not warmed up as much to meat analog products, said Sophie Egan, founder of Full Table Solutions.

“Many plant-based items are difficult to explain what they’re made of,” she said.

When it comes to making fruits and vegetables the priority in plant-based, Lauren Scott, chief strategy and membership officer for PMA, said there’s already a movement that sums it up perfectly.

And that’s “Have a Plant,” from the Produce for Better Health Foundation BB #:157162.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services