(Oct. 14) CINCINNATI — Produce vendors across Ohio are beginning to see opportunities in what might have been once considered an unlikely arena:

Fast-food.

With reports of lawsuits swirling around McDonald’s Corp., and other burger-and-fries purveyors, produce is becoming more common on menus.

Produce dealers are noticing that opportunity may be knocking.

“It’s definitely an opportunity,” said Tom Sirna, president of Aurora, Ohio-based foodservice distributor Sirna & Sons Produce. “For instance, this past winter and spring, there were romaine and iceberg prices that were high for a month.”

He thought the market would ultimately fall.

But it didn’t.

“One of the reasons was, a lot of these fast-food people put salads on their menu,” Sirna said. “Well, they had contracted out x-amount of boxes and far exceeded what their expectations were. They sold a lot more product. And it was right on the heels of this thing about obesity and all of the above. So, I gotta tell you, it’s going to continue to happen.”

Obesity has not evaporated from the headlines. It’s as weighty an issue as ever. And, Sirna said, fast-food chains likely would be looking for healthy choices for their menus.

“There’s going to be more produce in these fast foods,” he said. “It is an opportunity. However, a lot of these guys order direct right to their facilities. So will there be some opportunities? Possibly, but I’m not sure what yet.”

How long the opportunity lasts is guesswork, said Gary Pennington, a salesman for Will W. Fischer & Son Co.

“One time, I heard McDonald’s say they were going to institute a thing with apples and oranges and fresh fruit,” Pennington said. “So I called their corporate headquarters in Columbus. I never got a response from it. But I’m sure sooner or later they’ll get around to it. But people go out to eat. It’s not as bad as it sounds on TV. They don’t care. They want what they want. Maybe it will get big, but it won’t last. There’s nothing good for you if you listen to the TV. They change it. Eggs and coffee are bad for you, but we’ve had it all our lives.”

Tony DiNovo, president of DNO Inc., a Columbus wholesaler, said the panic over obesity hasn’t affected his business.

“I haven’t had anybody knock at my door to supply them with anything nutritious, but I hope somewhere down the road we’ll find an area there we can work on,” he said.