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Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum Unveiled:
New Conference Will Tackle MyPlate Challenge At New York Produce Show

Ideation is all about the birth of new ideas. It is a crucial process for individuals, companies, industries, indeed all human advancement.

If you stare long enough at the word, you realize that “eat” is right at the heart of it.

So the concept of ideation was a natural to place at the center of a new conference to be held in conjunction with The New York Produce Show and Conference, the Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum.

It is widely recognized that the success of the fresh produce industry depends heavily on the ability of the industry to both sell more into foodservice, find a way to get rewarded for providing superior quality and flavor, and for providing a suite of services that add value to a commodity.

It is also widely recognized that public health depends crucially on getting consumers to eat well and in a more healthful manner, which inevitably means eating more produce. Many of the diseases that are threatening the population, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, can be traced to obesity, and the connection between diet and obesity is quite strong.

What is not quite as well recognized is that the future of the restaurant industry and broader foodservice industry depends crucially on its ability to serve more produce. Although theoretically one can say that a restaurant should simply serve its customers what they want, this ignores the political reality in which we live.

With obesity a matter of public health concern and the consequences of obesity weighing on the budget of programs such as Medicaid and Medicare — and with the public becoming sensitized to the role foodservice can play in promoting obesity through the media, including films such as Super Size Me — it is increasingly likely that restaurants will be regulated into serving public health goals.

Today this starts with requirements for calorie counts on menus, but if posting the calorie counts does not change behavior, there is no particular reason to think that politicians will stop there.

The National Restaurant Association is aware of all this, and this fact is behind its joint initiative with the Produce Marketing Association to double fresh produce usage in foodservice by the year 2020. NRA recognizes that it ought to position the restaurant industry on the ‘side of the angels’ when it comes to healthy eating. NRA wants the restaurant industry to be seen as part of the solution, not part of the problem.

The NRA/PMA initiative is certainly a strong PR step in this direction, but it is uncertain how this plan will be actualized operationally. The initiative is somewhat problematic as more than two years into the project — 20% of the way through – no baseline number has yet been defined and no methodology established for how produce usage in foodservice in the year 2020 will be defined.

It is difficult to manage what one can’t measure. Although the current executives of the associations are dedicated to substantive change, without some real metrics, there is a real danger than future leaders of these associations may simply declare victory and go home without achieving much in the way of real change.

The United States Department of Agriculture recently replaced its old Food Pyramid with a new MyPlate recommendation to make half of our plate fruits and vegetables. Based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for all Americans, the plan has the advantage of being simple and easy to measure.

Yet it raises issues of its own. For one thing, no distinction is made between fresh and other forms of produce. This is not likely to be acceptable either to the fresh produce industry or to many top chefs. There also is the issue of money. Go to the Old Homestead Steakhouse in Manhattan, where John F. Kennedy Jr. was known to take his pals, and the most expensive salad on the menu costs 14 bucks. In contrast, the 20 oz Kobe Burger is, famously, $41, and steaks for one run up to $52. Is it possible to change the produce/protein ratio and still maintain ticket values for restaurants?

Another issue is health-related. If the Old Homestead responds to the MyPlate initiative by balancing its 32 oz. Gotham Rib steak with 32 oz. of spinach, we may see more spinach sold, but how much will be eaten is another question. Besides, we have doubts that increasing calories served in this way will really serve the cause of public health.

Quick Serve restaurants struggle with how to make produce quick and portable. If we run out of the office for a quick lunch, the decision to eat the nice salad served at the deli across the street is a decision to spend more than twice as much time eating as a burger or sandwich in the car.

Anyone with any sense is looking closely at university foodservice. For better or worse, students are into sustainability, local and organic; they focus on ethics and treatment of animals. These concerns are now echoing across the food supply chain and, although ideas and priorities may change over time, it reasonable to expect that all forms of foodservice will be changed as this University Cohort works its way through the years.

New York is an extraordinary center in foodservice and this conference is focused on drawing on the resources of the city and broader region to engage in some ideation about how we can actually make the plate half fresh produce.

There will be an update on the New York Produce/Restaurant scene, demos of intriguing recipes that are heavy to produce, and a special MyPlate Challenge workshop in which all the participants work together to find ways to overcome the obstacles to making fresh produce half the plate.

There will be networking opportunities, thinking sessions and opportunities to bring solutions back home.

The whole event is focused on fresh.

The Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum will be held on November 9, 2011, right after The New York Produce Show and Conference trade show, which is held on November 8, 2011.

Join us for this chance to make a difference in the world and the industry and an opportunity to help your own business prepare for the future that is fast approaching.

You can register for both the Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum and all parts of the New York Produce Show and Conference right here.

Hotel rooms are available here.

And travel discounts here.

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