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    4 Ways Restaurants Can Solve The Produce Problem

  • Americans aren’t eating enough fruits and veggies. Here’s how quick serves can change that.

    iStock / vainillaychile
    Embrace the exotic—Baobab fruit’s hard, coconut-like shell shields a delicious white pulp that some manufacturers are using in bars, juice blends, and superfruit snacks.

    The U.S. government’s dietary guidelines call for adults to consume 1.5–2 cups of fruit and 2–3 cups of vegetables per day. It’s not a large volume, but it’s still proving too much for nine in 10 Americans; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just over 12 percent of American adults are consuming their recommended daily dose of fruit, and just over 9 percent are eating the right amount of vegetables each day. This is troubling, because—if you haven’t yet heard the news—fruits and vegetables are good for us.

    Fortunately, the message is getting through to some younger consumers. Data points to the fact that younger generations believe it’s important to eat healthy and pay attention to nutrition. And back in 2015, a Nielsen survey of 30,000 people in 60 countries found that more than 40 percent of Gen Z consumers said they would pay a premium for healthier foods, compared with 32 percent of millennials and 21 percent of boomers. As Gen Z keeps reading about health and wellness and gaining exposure to cuisines that feature fruits and vegetables in abundance, they are making their presence known; sales of natural products reached $195 billion in 2016.

    The key for quick serves hoping to capitalize on these burgeoning trends is to consider easy and convenient ways to provide more fruits and vegetables to on-the-go consumers.

    Mix ’em up and get ready to go

    Younger consumers have repeatedly demonstrated their receptiveness to the hybrid of sweet and savory flavors within a single dish or product. From salted caramel in their chocolate to lavender, thyme, and other herbs in ice cream or juice blends, combinations that would once have seemed bizarre or counterintuitive are still very much the rage among the under-30 set.

    So in formulating ideas for new produce-containing products, consider options such as sippable, high-protein yogurt shakes that include both fruits and veggies in novel combinations, like purple carrot and beet; peach, pumpkin, and carrot; or kiwi and avocado. The combinations are limitless and delicious. It’s also possible to experiment with breads and pastries that contain both sweet and savory elements: zucchini-banana muffins; green apple, potato, and scallion turnovers; or sun-dried tomato and caramelized onion buns with herbed ricotta, for instance.

    Go stealth (health)

    Unsurprisingly, parents seeking to introduce more produce into their children’s diets have long worked to sneak it in without anyone noticing. That tact still has merit, and it’s made easier with items such as fruit and vegetable juice popsicles or pasta made from spiralized veggies. In addition, more entrepreneurs and restaurateurs are warming to the magic of replacing starchy carriers with those made from cauliflower, in contexts ranging from pizza crusts to sandwich thins to tortillas.

    Embrace the exotic

    One problem with trying to get young people excited about fruit? A perceived lack of new or novel flavors. For this reason, it may be worth seeking out lesser-known produce that falls outside the realm of the ordinary. Baobab, the fruit of Africa’s tree of life, is suddenly showing up on menus and grocery-store shelves around the country. The antioxidant-rich fruit’s hard, coconut-like shell shields a delicious white pulp that some manufacturers are using in bars, juice blends, and superfruit snacks. Yuzu, an aromatic and toothsome Japanese citrus fruit, is also finding broad favor outside of its usual Japanese cuisine context. New York City’s Three Tarts offered yuzu marshmallows as treats, and we’re also seeing sparkling beverages and olive oils with a yuzu twist. And beets are hot, too. From lemonades to ice cream to bars, condiments, and even gazpacho-style soups, there’s a place for beets and a host of other fruits and vegetables in these unusual applications.

    Considering the sources

    For millennials and Gen Z consumers, the provenance of food matters, which is why biodynamic, sustainable, and organic fruits and vegetables are becoming increasingly popular. For quick serves, these premium produce categories may be cost-prohibitive, but there could be other ways for them to help allay young consumers’ concerns about factory farming, pesticide and fertilizer use, soil degradation, and food waste. Operators may want to consider, for instance, how they can safely reveal what’s happening behind the scenes in the kitchen to give health-conscious consumers confidence in the care that goes into their menu selections. That transparency could go a long way toward earning the trust of young consumers.

    Regardless of which avenues you pursue to introduce more fruits and veggies onto your menuboard, addressing the needs of the health-conscious and sustainability-minded while continuing to serve core customers may be a good strategy for preventing the parent-veto vote and for bolstering your restaurant’s reputation as a provider of good nutrition.</