I recently moderated a panel discussion in the U.S. at the Produce for Better Health (PBH) Consumer Connection Conference in mid-April. The panelists represented a diverse group of foodservice companies, where senior leadership views produce as an important part of their business. Our 45-minute discussion focused on leaders’ insights on what matters, what’s doable and what needs to happen next to increase fresh fruit and vegetable consumption.
Our discussion began with brief introductions to their companies to help the audience better understand their business model and customers.
Foodworks, a division of Compass Group North America, is a company born during the pandemic and the changing needs of employers wanting to provide food for their employees, explained John Coker, president. John and his team of six people work with independent restaurateurs who execute pop-up events, food truck operators and caterers to provide meals to worksites for both white collar and blue-collar employers.
Foodworks has a mandate to focus on contracts with minority- and women-owned businesses. They provide guaranteed minimums for the foodservice operators that closely align with employers’ anticipated needs, where one day there may be 50 people at a work site and 1,500 the next day.
Jessica Foust, a chef-dietitian and director of global product development, Little Caesars, a brand most people recognize, talked about food equity and how Little Caesars believes every family has a right to pizza night that provides quality, convenience and great value. This holds true not only for their U.S. restaurants, but also in the 27 countries in which they operate today, including the UK.
Jessica may have shocked the audience when she casually mentioned team members in every Little Caesars make marinara from scratch each day, along with fresh pizza dough. She also talked about Little Caesars’ quality standards for their tomatoes as well as other fresh produce items such as mushrooms, onions and bell peppers.
Amanda Goldman, a dietitian and now the healthcare industry sales strategist for Gordon Food Service, the largest privately held foodservice distributor in North America, shared information on Gordon Food Service’s partnership with Markon to bring fresh produce to foodservice clients across North America. Amanda also reinforced Gordon Food Service and Markon Cooperative’s commitment to client-centered solutions that make produce easier to manage in foodservice operations, like pack sizes created specifically for foodservice operations.
Amanda also talked about the work she leads to plan and execute training programs around the country on Mediterranean-style dining for Gordon sales representatives, along with their customers. Their focus on a well-known and beloved plant-forward eating pattern helps drive interest, use of and consumption of fruits and vegetables for their accounts.
Good things happen when senior leadership views produce as an important part of their business.
Chavanne Hanson, a dietitian, is the food choice architecture and nutrition manager for Google Food. She is part of a small team that works with contract foodservice companies to provide employee dining services to more than 187,000 Googlers at Google offices in 55 countries around the world.
Chavanne talked at length about Google’s commitment to employee wellness and productivity, and how it designs its menus and dining environments to encourage Googlers to choose and consume more produce more often. They make fruits and vegetables available everywhere food is served, and also work to find prompts that make produce the likely choice.
When asked why increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables matters to their companies, each panelist talked about his or her company’s corporate commitment to health and wellness, not only for their own employees but also the clients they serve.
John Coker mentioned his newest concept, GREEN Powered by Foodworks, which focuses on plant-forward menu options that follow The Culinary Institute of America Menus of Change Menu Principles. GREEN is a concept clients seeking a greater emphasis on health and wellness will choose, like college campuses serving Gen Z students.
In our final minutes, I asked the four leaders to share advice with the influencers and marketers in the room striving to motivate people to eat more fruits and vegetables. They all agreed on one principle: Keep it simple.
Don’t get bogged down with too many details, too many suggestions, too much science, too many sustainability metrics. Use short, positive, motivating messages that prompt diners to choose the plant-forward menu option. Train servers and other frontline foodservice employees to encourage people to try new vegetable side dishes. Encourage employees to grab a piece of fruit with their meal.
Their final piece of advice? Demonstrate your personal and professional commitment to produce by modeling the behaviors you want to see in others — buy more, order more, eat more.
Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND is a farmer’s daughter from North Dakota, award-winning dietitian, culinary nutrition expert, and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, Inc. She is the culinary and foodservice strategist for the Produce for Better Health Foundation, the retail nutrition marketing and foodservice specialist for the Buy California Marketing Agreement/CA GROWN, a member of the Texas A&M Institute for Advancing Health Through Agriculture AgriLife External Advisory Board, a member of the Bayer Vegetable Seeds Horticultural Advisory Council, and co-author of Cooking á la Heart, a 500-recipe cookbook based on plant-forward eating cultures from around the world.. You can learn more about her business at www.farmersdaughterconsulting.com, and you can follow her insights on food and flavor on social media @AmyMyrdalMiller.