MONTEREY, Calif. — As American consumers continue to gain sophistication in their diets and demand healthier options, fresh produce should benefit.

A July 30 panel at the Produce Marketing Association’s Foodservice Conference in Monterey outlined the many opportunities fruits and vegetables have in the changing restaurant marketplace.

Consumer demand benefits fruits and vegetablesDawn Sweeney, president and chief executive officer of the National Restaurant Association, said flavor and health go hand-in-hand.

She said research group Mintel named healthy eating the top restaurant trend this year, and healthy kids menu the top trend in quick-serve restaurants.

Greg Drescher, executive director of strategic initiatives for the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, said global cuisine is expanding in popularity so much that he’s seen interest from companies that serve kids in kindergarten through grade 12.

The panel also warned that the local trend has to be more honest.

Drescher said he worked with Harvard University, which promoted locally grown fresh produce in its brochures. But when university officials revealed only about 20% of its menu was local, Drescher said Harvard needs to promote where the other 80% comes from.

Robert Verloop, executive vice president of marketing for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., said it’s time to start promoting seasonality along with local, so that consumers get the best quality all times of the year.

Rich Dachman, vice president of produce for Sysco Corp., Houston, said some produce and restaurant marketers equate local to organic to sustainable to safe, when those really are exclusive terms.

“We need to end that (mindset),” he said.

Rick Wolff, director of culinary standards for HMS Host, said chefs are most interested in flavor, not local or appearance or nutrient density.

“Chefs use products that look like they’ve been grown,” he said. “It’s not retail. It doesn’t have to look perfect.”