Opportunities abound when it comes to using fresh produce on restaurant menus, according to new research, conducted by the National Restaurant Association and Produce Marketing Association (PMA). The research highlights produce’s expanded options, sourcing and food safety among food service operators. The research on fresh produce in food service shows that restaurant operators see fresh produce as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition. Nearly three out of four restaurant operators (72%) said emphasizing fresh produce in their marketing efforts drives more customers to their restaurant. In addition, 46% of restaurant operators said they look for fresh produce items that their customers can not buy at their supermarket, including 78% of fine dining operators. In addition, 67% of restaurant operators said they wish they had more options regarding fresh produce selections, while 60% of operators said they wish there was more information on how to incorporate fresh produce on their menu. Forty-one percent said they expect to serve more fresh produce in the next two years, while 56% said they expect to serve about the same amount. Restaurant operators also look at sourcing of fresh produce, with 77% saying they prefer to purchase domestically grown fresh produce, and 56% of survey respondents serve locally-sourced produce in their restaurants. Food safety remains a top priority for restaurant operators. Eighty-nine percent of operators said they are willing to pay more for their fresh produce if its safety is guaranteed, and 76% of operators said they are willing to pay more for fresh produce if it is traceable all the way up the supply chain. “This research gives us tremendous insight into where we should focus our efforts to increase use of fresh produce in food service, which benefits everyone that touches the plate, with the ultimate beneficiary being the end consumer,” said PMA President and CEO Bryan Silbermann. Source: Research conducted by the National Restaurant Association and the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), July 27, 2009. Website: www.restaurant.org.