CALGARY, Alberta — The statistics just kept rolling at a panel on Canadian retail and foodservice trends at the Canadian Produce Marketing Association’s annual convention in Calgary.

While vegetable servings are declining in restaurants, fruit is growing by 2%, or an increase of 2.5 million servings a year, said Sam Silvestro, director of fresh food for Wal-Mart Canada Corp., Mississauga, Ontario.

Considering an average check of $7.13 per meal, adding fruit boosts the average to $9.35, he said. That number rises to $15.44 when vegetables are added.

At retail, meanwhile, Canadians spend $3,494 per person a year on food, he said. Food prices rose 4.2% last January, he said, with vegetable prices up 8%, though not at Wal-Mart.

When it comes to fresh produce, he said, Canada’s aging boomers are focused on price, convenience and solutions, and they want their produce local, healthy and safe.

The spin on salads

To sell more salad dressing, Kraft encourages restaurants to serve more salads, said Peter Melnyk, director of marketing at Toronto-based Kraft Canada.

But it’s complicated.

For starters, salads haven’t recovered from 2008, when diners began trading white tablecloths for paper plates loaded with burgers and fries.

The good news is that this past fall brought a 3.4% increase in traffic in commercial restaurants, Melnyk said, and he predicts a modest 1% growth this year.

“We have our work cut out for us,” he said.

While 18 to 24-year-olds have the most disposable income, they’re also the group most affected by unemployment, he said. Which means restaurants should be courting the 55+ crowd, a growing percentage of Canada’s population.

Immigration is booming, led by South Asians and Chinese, and both retail and foodservice are focusing on exotic ethnic flavors, Melnyk said.

In fact, ethnic restaurants were the only foodservice segment that grew during the recession.

Kraft is tempting mainstream chefs with easy, ethnic-inspired recipes such as veggie-filled Asian salad rolls.

Melnyk said 54% of Canadians prepare a garden or leaf salad more than once a week. They also love ordering Caesar salad at restaurants, though only 37% say they eat it regularly.

When asked their opinion of restaurant salads, consumers called for fresher ingredients, a wider variety of greens and toppings and less iceberg lettuce, he said.

At the back of the house, operators know salads are profitable, he said, but complain they’re too labor-intensive.

Melynk said foodservice should buy local produce in season to trim costs, experiment with new ingredients and take advantage of pre-washed, pre-cut ingredients.

Fresh fruit trends

While vegetables are popular at lunch and dinner, Canadians consume fruit all day, said Claude Doiron, national sales manager at Vancouver-based Sun Rich Fresh Foods Inc., which processes more than 100 million pounds of fruit a year.

Doiron said Canadians eat 89% of their fruit at home, most at breakfast, and only 3% in restaurants, where there’s a huge opportunity to increase sales, he said.

More quick-service restaurants offer sliced apples in salads and as an alternative to cookies, he said, and chefs are slipping diced mango into seafood and chicken dishes.

Children aged 2 to 12 are driving fruit trends, Doiron said, though today’s teens are eating less fruit. Apples, strawberries and bananas remain favorites, he said, and the more pre-cut fruit kids have access to, the more they’ll eat.

In response to customer demand, Doiron said Sun Rich is processing as much local product as possible in season.

“It’s important for customers to know where their fruit is coming from,” he said.

He said studies show that consumers believe local produce tastes fresher and better, they trust that it’s safe and they like supporting their community.