NEW ORLEANS — The success of introducing school salad bars helped open United Fresh 2011 with a look at the industry’s 2010 accomplishments and challenges.

During a May 3 opening breakfast general session, a panel of foodservice distributors and school foodservice professionals discussed how the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association’s Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools campaign is encouraging young people to eat more fresh produce.

“Over half of our schools in our system have a salad bar,” said Cathy Schlosberg, vice president of marketing and strategic development for Aramark Education, a division of Philadelphia-based Aramark. “We are continually looking for ways to not only display the produce in salad bars but to get students interested in eating fresh produce. In some cases, produce usage in our schools has increased up to 50% with the inclusion of salad bars and fruit and vegetable bars.”

Margie Saidel, vice president of nutrition and sustainability for Chartwells School Dining Services, a division of Compass Group North America, Charlotte, N.C., said she recently stood by a trash barrel and watched to see what students were discarding. She said she didn’t see any fruits and vegetables go to waste.

“Fruit and vegetable consumption has definitely gone up,” Saidel said. “There’s not a lot of waste. If kids have a choice, they can take what they like and not waste a lot.”

Outgoing United Fresh chairwoman Steffanie Smith, chief executive officer of River Point Farms, Hermiston, Ore., said the passage of child nutrition reauthorization solidified the industry’s gains in the Women, Infants and Children program and the school fresh fruit and vegetable snack program. She said those accomplishments helped set the course for more produce in school meals for years to come.

“Despite our successes, I’m not fully satisfied that we captured the full strength of our industry,” Smith said. “The key is working together in common purpose. But there are far too many of us working in different camps pursuing individual goals, often at the expense of our collective welfare. We just have to keep diluting the power and the need to have a unified voice.

“I want you to stay focused on the mission and keep up the effort to build bridges and coalitions and combine our industry strengths because to remain true to a common purpose and a common voice will drive our greatest success.”

In an update on the Produce Traceability Initiative, Cathy Green Burns, president of Food Lion LLC, Salisbury, N.C., and chairwoman of United Fresh’s PTI leadership council, said the industry has many pilot projects in or beginning operation.

“We are committed to being transparent in the process,” Burns said. “It is our intention to keep the costs down. We also believe one sector shouldn’t bear all the cost burdens.”

Convention co-chairman David Krause, president of Paramount Citrus Association Inc., Delano, Calif., said the convention possesses much energy.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to is energized about what’s going on in the produce industry,” he said. “There’s a lot of momentum to drive consumption and our industry is ready to meet those challenges.” 

United Fresh 2011 touts successes in school programs

Doug Ohlemeier

Cathy Schlosberg (from left), vice president of marketing and strategic development for Aramark Education, discusses how cafeterias are serving more fresh produce in school meals during the May 3 United Fresh 2011 opening session. United Fresh chairwoman Steffanie Smith, chief executive officer of River Point Farms, and Margie Saidel, vice president of nutrition and sustainability for Chartwells School Dining Services, also participate in the panel.