Tough times in the restaurant industry are challenge for produce marketers.


While rising fresh fruit and vegetable prices are partly to blame, produce also may hold the key to improving the situation.


The National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Performance Index found wholesale food prices up more than 5% in July compared to a year ago, driven by double-digit gains in commodities, including fresh produce.


Indicative of the trend, the nation’s biggest foodservice supply firm, Sysco Corp., blamed fruit and vegetables for food cost increases in its latest quarterly report.


Nearly half of restaurant operators say same-store sales and traffic fell in July as well.


Although costs for fresh fruits and vegetables are edging up and playing a part in squeezing margins, a potential payoff awaits restaurants that don’t skimp on the produce.


Recent NRA research finds three-quarters of consumers say they are trying to eat healthier in restaurants.


Research gathered last year along with the Produce Marketing Association as part of the Foodservice 2020 effort — which aims to double produce use in the category — found that 75% of operators say putting a spotlight on fresh produce drives customers to their restaurants.


Strong majorities of diners want more produce on the plate when they dine out.


Suppliers and buyers both have a stake in finding mutually profitable price points that will allow them to satisfy the dining public’s demand for healthful entrees and side dishes.

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