(July 16) Ed Scurich, director of Western foodservice for Tanimura & Antle Inc., Salinas, Calif., said the recent surge in salads at McDonald’s, Wendy’s and other fast-food restaurants supports data that suggest a more vegetable-friendly foodservice industry.

“Fast food restaurants have made a huge commitment to salads,” Scurich said. “There are far more opportunities today for restaurants to explore new possibilities with fresh produce.”

Nine percent of entrees or main-dish salads ordered in U.S. restaurants in 2001 consisted mainly of vegetables, according to a study used by the National Restaurant Association, Washington, D.C.

The study indicates that Americans are trying to eat healthier, Scurich said, and that the fresh produce industry can benefit from looking more and more to foodservice.

The study, “Consumer Reports on Eating Share Trends,” also found that 1.5% of entrees or main-dish salads consumed in restaurants last year were vegetarian.

The CREST study also found that restaurant customers ordered side or appetizer salads with almost 14% of their meals, while 4% of quick-service customers ordered side or appetizer salads in 2001. Older adults, especially women and consumers with higher incomes, were more likely to order vegetables in restaurants, the study found.

For one industry veteran, those numbers are disappointing.

“I honestly believe they are somewhat low,” said Lisa McNeece, vice president of foodservice and industrial sales for Grimmway Farms, Bakersfield, Calif. “I would think they’d be higher. I’d hoped they’d be higher.”

McNeece, who serves on the foodservice committee of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Wilmington, Del., said that when she eats dinner out, the majority of the appetizers she orders are vegetable-based, and a high percentage of her entrees include potatoes. That’s not even including the standard dinner salad.

“In today’s culture, where health is such an issue, I believe people are eating more and more fresh fruits and vegetables,” McNeece said.