MONTEREY, Calif. — Produce Marketing Association president Bryan Silbermann took the occasion of PMA’s Foodservice Conference & Exposition to spell out an ambitious plan: to double the use of fresh produce in foodservice by 2020.

The goal’s lofty outcome faces the reality of the rocky economy, with restaurants experiencing their most challenging market in 50 years and an inflation adjusted 1% decline in sales in 2008-09.

PMA vows to double produce use in foodservice by 2020
                                                             Fred Wilkinson

Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive officer for the National Restaurant Association, chats with Dave Corsi, vice president of Wegmans Foods Markets Inc., after the Executive Think Tank Summary.

Silbermann and a group of restaurant industry decision-makers detailed the opportunities and challenges facing fresh produce in the foodservice sector during the Executive Think Tank Summary and Discussion session that opened the July 24-26 conference. According to PMA, nearly 1,500 people attended the event.

Insights aired at the workshop were the result of research conducted by PMA, the National Restaurant Association and the International Foodservice Distributors Association.

The workshop marked the rollout for the collaboration’s work, which will continue to be revealed on an ongoing basis — or as Silbermann phrased it, “serialized like a Charles Dickens novel.”

To accomplish the goal, four areas will be targeted:

  • Communicating fresh produce’s role in healthy diets. Workshop panelist Fedele Bauccio, chief executive officer of Bon Appetit Management Co. Inc., Palo Alto, noted that from Colorado west and Ohio to the east, nearly one in four consumers are vegetari-ans.
  • Retain jobs in foodservice. The sector is the second-largest employer in the U.S. economy, with 13 million workers, said Washington, D.C.-based NRA president Dawn Sweeney.
  • Social responsibility/sustainability.  Play up the role fruits and vegetables have in health and wellness and communicate what suppliers are doing to “green” their operations. Solid majorities of diners surveyed from quick-serve (63%) through the fine-dining (73%) categories want more fresh produce options, Sweeney said.
  • Profitability.  Work with legislators and regulators to craft favorable tax codes, labor regulations and immigration laws.

Recognitions

  • The event drew nearly 1,500 attendees and 149 exhibitors.
  • Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, was named “best of show” among 149 exhibitors for overall booth presentation, product presentation and exhibit personnel.
  • David Gill, partner in Oxnard-based Gills Onions LLC, garnered The Packer’s 2009 Foodservice Achievement Award for his many contributions to the foodservice sector, including serving as chairman of PMA’s foodservice division board.
  • The PMA FIT golf tourney raised a preliminary $26,000.