(July 23) WILMINGTON, Del. — Although the number of produce options on restaurant menus are increasing, consumption at foodservice venues remains relatively limited, and consumers are hungry for more choices.

From 2002 to 2003, restaurants increased the amount of their vegetable offerings by 5%, while fruit options jumped 17%, according to research released by the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

Vegetables were on menus about 10 times more often than fruits.

PBH attributed the trend to American’s concerns with obesity, which were largely fueled by media reports in 2003. The most popular response among restaurant chains was the introduction of new salads.

The foundation’s findings were to be presented July 23 at PBH’s 5 a Day Foodservice Summit in Monterey, Calif.

EXPO PRESENTATION

The research, funded by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Newark-based Produce Marketing Association, also was to be presented during the association’s Foodservice Conference, Tours and Expo on July 25 in Monterey.

More presentations are planned at restaurant industry forums.

Despite an increase in produce availability, the research also indicated low consumption levels at restaurants.

While 67% of those surveyed said they visit a quick-service restaurant at least once every two weeks, only 18% of those people said they regularly consumed fruits and vegetables at the establishments.

VARIETY LACKING

Further research indicated that 30% of those surveyed thought the restaurant industry lacked variety in the fruits and vegetables on its menus. Twenty-five percent of quick-service customers said they would eat at a res-taurant more often if more produce options were available.

Brenda Humphreys, director of foodservice for PBH, said consumers desire menu options that are more flavor-ful, healthful and fresh. She said the public is tired of the traditional produce choices, such as mixed vegetables.

“If you could reapportion a plate, and fill it up with more fruits and vegetables and a smaller portion of pro-tein, what would happen?” she said. “Your customer is still going to be full, they’re still going to be satisfied — they’re going to most likely have eaten healthier because there’s more fruits and vegetables.”