Although its focus was fresh produce on the menu, an industry survey of restaurant operators has some important learnings for frozen fruit and vegetable processors as well.

During its annual Foodservice Conference & Exposition last month in Monterey, Calif., the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) showcased a foodservice operator study conducted for PMA in conjunction with the National  Restaurant Association and the International Foodservice Distributors Association.

Officials said the research shows that restaurant operators view fresh produce as a way to differentiate themselves from competition. Nearly three out of four restaurant operators (72 percent) said emphasizing fresh produce in their marketing efforts drives more customers to their restaurant. In addition, 46 percent said they look for fresh produce items that their customers cannot buy at the supermarket.

In addition, 67 percent of restaurant operators said they wish they had more options regarding fresh produce selections while 60 percent of operators said they wish there was more information on how to incorporate fresh produce on the menu. Forty-one percent said they expect to serve more fresh produce in the next two years, while 56 percent said they expect to serve about the same amount.

Food safety remains a top priority for restaurant operators. Eighty-nine percent said they are willing to pay more for their fresh produce if its safety is guaranteed and 76 percent of operators said they are willing to pay more for fresh produce if it is traceable all the way up the supply chain.