(Feb. 9, 4:50 p.m.) Three major food organizations are partnering to try and increase the presence of fresh produce in the foodservice industry.

The Produce Marketing Association, National Restaurant Association and International Foodservice Distributors Association have joined forces on a multi-phase project to identify opportunities and promote healthy lifestyles.

The first phase of the project, which already is under way, uses input from the produce industry to increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables in the foodservice sector, according to a news release from the PMA. The restaurant association is spearheading the effort, and members of the three associations will use results to collaborate on projects boosting consumption, according to the release, through a series of “think tank” discussions.

“The restaurant industry has a strong commitment to providing our guests a variety of healthful menu options on our menus, and fresh produce plays an important role in a balanced diet,” said Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive officer of the NRA, in the release.

“Our research shows that locally grown produce and healthy kids meals with vegetable and fruit side items are among the hottest trends on restaurant menus right now,” she said in the release.

Members of the three groups will meet during PMA’s annual Foodservice Conference and Exposition July 24-26 in Monterey, Calif. PMA plans to present some of the research at the conference’s opening general session, according to the release, and summaries will be available.

“This is a landmark moment for our association and members to identify greater opportunities for produce in foodservice,” said Bryan Silbermann, president and chief executive officer of PMA, in the release.

Markon Cooperative Inc., Salinas, Calif., is sponsoring the project, and Kerry Tucker of Nuffer, Smith, Tucker, San Diego, will oversee the think tank discussions and report.