The School Nutrition Association’s Annual Nutrition Conference in Kansas City, Mo., showed signs of the growing clout of fruits and vegetables.

The number of fresh produce exhibitors was not overwhelming, accounting for only a small fraction of the 381 companies exhibiting at the July 14-17 event.

Yet fruits and vegetables received strong attention from the 6,000 who attended.

Among six interactive culinary demonstrations on the showroom floor, kid-friendly fruit and vegetable trends were highlighted in one. At that demonstration, exhibitors shared recipes and serving ideas that entice students to eat their fruits and vegetables. Attendees also had the chance to examine single-serving produce options to help them meet new nutrition standards for school vending machines and a la carte lines.

While the demand for fruits and vegetables in schools is growing, it is not necessarily an easy market. Finding the sweet spot of product and packaging for students who are being challenged to eat healthy food after years of chips and candy bars is not an easy task.

And while school foodservice professionals have not traditionally looked to produce marketers for innovation, that is beginning to change. New fresh-cut packages featuring a wide variety of fruits and vegetables are being offered, making it easy for school foodservice administrators to meet new nutrition guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

With demanding new nutrition standards in place, there is every reason to think that the new energy found at the Kansas City event may be just the beginning of a beautiful friendship between produce marketers and school foodservice directors.

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