Fresh produce is changing American foodservice. With the help of guest blogger Maeve Webster at Datassential, we published evidence to support this very notion recently on The Core. Going into this past weekend’s annual PMA Foodservice Conference and Expo, we had high hopes to see this trend reflected across the show floor – and we weren’t surprised that we were once again blown away! The energy and efforts we saw go into the 2015 show were at an all-time high. Here is what blew us away at this year’s expo:
This trend kept surfacing for us wherever we went. Consumers like to eat with their eyes, and flowers create an added touch of elegance that excites when you learn it doesn’t have to get pushed to the side of your plate. We saw edible flowers incorporated in many different ways – Fresh Origins Microgreens included gorgeous displays of crystallized flowers and USA Pears added a nice touch by pairing an edible flower with fresh fruit and cheese to add a little spice to each bite!
Pickled and Fermented Veggies
The pickling trend isn’t new, but continues to surface as a “hot” item consumers are looking for on restaurant menus and now they even want to DIY in their own homes. The traffic-heavy California Avocadoes booth included pickled veggies in the salads they served up during the show, and Saturday speaker Chef Hugh Acheson touched on the importance of this trend during his presentation. He noted that fermentation is becoming more and more popular, but people are still generally afraid of this term because they don’t realize how many fermented foods they are already eating. If you want to jump on the fermentation trend, consider other language to describe your recipe.
Herbs Used in Unexpected Ways
We are no stranger to herbs, and we can devour fresh basil or a slice of rosemary bread when given the chance. But at this year’s show, Rocket Farms successfully used the herb trend in a way we didn’t expect – with dessert and infused water! Rosemary was incorporated into cookies to add a refreshing savory touch to a typically sweet item, and the herb, flower and fruit infused water had attendees stopping by again and again for more.
Healthier and Gluten-Free Alternatives
Avoiding gluten has been an ongoing trend for a few year’s now, but in the foodservice realm there are still many restaurants working to incorporate more gluten-free offerings into their menus. We were excited to see a few fresh produce companies share their inspirations with the foodservice buyers: CaliFresh presented 3 versions of their green chickpea hummus, sold under the Sarah’s Harvest label. A gluten-free item, CaliFresh is differentiating Sarah’s Harvest from other hummus brands because it is made with the chickpeas while they are still green, creating a smoother, fresher and healthier version of the already delicious and healthy hummus we know and love. We also loved the fresh wraps made with Kohlrabi from Bejo Seeds. Not only does this present a gluten-free alternative for wraps, but it also presents a creative way to use Kohlrabi in foodservice and beyond!
Produce as a Decoration
For years fresh produce companies have been “WOWing” us with their creative use of their products in displays and décor in the booth – but now this creativity is starting to have a practical application for foodservice operators. Edible Arrangements has been making food “art” in the form of bouquets for some time, but why not incorporate whole and fresh vegetables into floral displays in a way that highlights their natural beauty? Green Giant Fresh successfully captured this trend and presented arrangements that restaurants, caterers and event coordinators could make their own. We’re thinking a veggie themed wedding… any takers!?
Not Your Mama’s Cooking
Chef Hugh touched on a trend during his presentation that really caught our attention: many Americans are starting to enjoy eating veggies like Brussel sprouts or collard greens after years of dislike because they are finally being cooked the right way. The chef explained that our mothers simply didn’t cook Brussels sprouts in a way that made them appealing, but restaurants are really starting to capture and bring these veggies up to their full potential. Updated cooking techniques are opening a whole new realm of possibility to growers who market these products. We think Ippolito International’s Queen Victoria Brussels sprouts hit the nail on the head with their chef-prepared shaved Brussels sprout salad and their creative, consumer-friendly recipe cards.
Sharing Untold Stories Behind Your Brand and Products
Finally, one of the things that always inspired us is hearing the stories behind your brand and products, and this year was no different. But this time, we feel it is important to emphasize the importance of telling these stories on a larger scale to food media outlets, local consumer publications and beyond. These are the untold stories that blew us away at this year’s show.
Talley Farms – This first time exhibitor to PMA Foodservice blew us away with their family tradition and the way they paired their wine and vineyard story with their growing story and fresh products. The family has been growing a variety of vegetables since 1948, and has since diversified to include wine grapes, vineyards, a renowned winery and a weekly harvest subscription box of freshly-grown produce available to the California Central Coast. They included wine samplings at their booth to tie this story all together, and we weren’t mad about it!
Monterey Mushrooms - Our friends at Monterey Mushrooms were focused on a new trend – “blendability.” By blending finely chopped mushrooms with ground beef or other proteins, restaurants can create dishes that cut both calories and costs for their guests. We love how Monterey is focusing on telling this previously untold story not only to their buyers, but also to the foodservice media to generate buzz. They also shared with us the importance mushrooms can play in the diets of vitamin D deficient consumers, and we couldn’t help but start to imagine the possibilities of telling this story to consumer media outlets across the country and what this would do for the mushroom category…
J Marchini Farms – Visiting the J Marchini Farms booth on Sunday, we were blown away when they introduced us to Joe – the face of the Joe’s Produce brand. You can read more about Joe’s story here, but we found ourselves in awe that without him, Radicchio may never have made it to our plates. Hearing about the history of radicchio inspired us, and we feel these are the types of stories that people need and want to hear relative to what you grow and sell. With a rich history that dates back to early 20th century Italy, J Marchini Farms has a family farming story that we hope to see shared and expanded upon in the years ahead!
When 4:00 pm came on Sunday, we found ourselves wishing that we could have just one more day with all of you at the show to hear all of your stories and thoughts about foodservice trends. As always, we cannot wait to see you next year in Monterey. Until then – let us know what your highlights were from this year’s PMA Foodservice Expo!