The fast-food wars continue to heat up, with fruits and vegetables serving as primary ammunition.

The latest salvos have been launched by Golden, Colo.-based Boston Market and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Arby’s Inc., both of which have fattened their menus with produce items.

“We’re moving forward with our seasonal menu, … which will add more variety and choices on the fruit and vegetable side,”said Phyllis Hammond, a spokesman for Boston Market, a subsidiary of McDonald’s Corp., which owns and operates about 630 eateries in 28 states.

Beginning in June, for example, Boston Market is launching potato salad and broccoli side dishes, with more to come later in the year, Hammond said.

A new dessert features fresh strawberries, she added.

Perhaps the most notable changes in the chain’s strategy are home delivery — which is being tested in East Coast markets and could be available in two-thirds of Boston Market stores within 18 months — and new full-service deli locations in supermarkets.

The concept includes hot foods, as well as a chilled section with fresh fruits and vegetables, Hammond said.

ARBY’S SALADS

Arby’s, meanwhile, announced April 27 that it had added three entree salads to its menu. The Market Fresh salads are that company’s attempt to reach a more nutritionally conscious consumer, the company said.

The Market Fresh salads include spring mix greens and vegetables. The Martha’s Vineyard salad has fresh-cut apples, dried cranberries, toasted almonds and diced grilled chicken. The Santa Fe salad is made with grape tomatoes, tortilla chips, cucumbers, red onions and sliced chicken. Finally, the Asian Sesame salad includes mandarin oranges, Asian noodles and diced grilled chicken.

“I think it will have a great impact,” said Dave Mills, senior vice president for Salinas, Calif.-based Mills Inc. “The trend at the quick-service restaurants is toward healthy eating, and we noticed a lot of buzz at the United (Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association) convention was about healthy eating and so forth. That plays into the produce business, because we think we offer some of the healthiest opportunities for these establishments.”

The trend toward more fruit and vegetable choices on fast-food menus is a positive for any produce supplier who can tap into the system, said Sam Sanfilippo, president of Sunfarm Food Service, St. Louis.

But, he added, big-volume players may be beyond the reach of some suppliers.

“The big chains were going with major shippers for year-round contracts,” Sanfilippo said. “We did some with Burger King and Subway for awhile. A lot of them have gone to major shippers.”

NO FLASH IN THE PAN

Such menu upgrades likely are here to stay, said Tom Miner, principal at Technomic Inc. of Chicago, a food-industry marketing, consulting and research company.

“I think it’s more than just a flash-in-the-pan trend,” Miner said. “The mainstream QSRs are adding salads that have fruits and nuts and lots of different kinds of vegetables and more upscale in their approach than the iceberg format. They have rich color and great flavor. They’re going to find a strong market for that.”

Brenda Humphreys, director of foodservice for the Wilmington, Del.-based Produce For Better Health Foundation, said that while more fruit and vegetable options on menus are a plus, there are other factors to consider.

“We certainly like seeing more fruits and vegetables on menus, no question,” she said. “But we also look at total fat, sodium, cholesterol. We live under certain criteria. It may not be as healthy as we’d like it to be.”

PBH’s first 5 a Day Foodservice Summit, scheduled July 23 in Monterey, Calif., will focus on ways that quick-service restaurants can upgrade their menus comprehensively, Humphreys said.

“It will be targeted specifically toward restaurant chains,” she said. “We have an awful lot of research being conducted now. Our major focus is where the consumer is at, how they’re making choices and what they are interested in and how we as an industry can get in front of the curve.”

Quick servers raise profile of produce
Arby’s Market Fresh salads include (clockwise from left) Santa Fe, Asian Sesame and Martha’s Vineyard.