Outside of government and the healthcare industry, food and beverage are the largest employers in America, generating four percent of the country’s annual GDP and accounting for 12 million jobs (and, indirectly, millions more), according to a recent article published by the magazine Rolling Stone. The COVID-19 pandemic has debilitated the foodservice sector, with the Independent Restaurant Coalition reporting that former food and beverage industry employees account for 60 percent of the nation’s rising unemployment claims as of mid-May. While most chefs and foodservice operators had been mandated to close their dining rooms, they demonstrated fortitude and creativity by presenting new ways to support the health and wellbeing of their loyal diners and communities in this unprecedented environment.
United Fresh has been there every step of the way to support the foodservice sector. Most recently, United Fresh celebrated the winners of its Produce Excellence in Foodservice Awards program as part of the Retail-Foodservice LIVE! General Session, held during United Fresh LIVE! in June. The winning chefs and foodservice professionals have not only demonstrated excellence in menu development that spotlights fresh produce, but they have innovated their models to continue operating.
Chef Travis Peters, Executive Chef of The Parish in Tucson, Arizona, and winner in the program’s Casual and Family Dining category, collaborated with the local food media to create the Take Out Once A Week campaign for the city of Tucson. As the name indicates, the campaign features videos of local chefs encouraging the community to support local restaurants by ordering takeout at least once a week. The campaign caught national attention and helped stabilize restaurants.
“The staff at The Parish are like family, and from day one since this shutdown started, we knew we needed to pivot and hustle to keep everyone employed,” said Chef Peters. “We’ve been able to stay successful because of community support and our outreach initiatives, enabling us to feed our staff and their families, as well as offer half-priced meals for first responders and hospital staff.”
Kachka’s Executive Chef and Owner, Chef Bonnie Morales, and winner in the Fine Dining category, worked for weeks to develop a takeout program—among the first in Portland, Oregon—for a restaurant that was previously dine-in only. She started the day after her dining room closed to guests and, since then, the curbside pick-up/to-go menu has grown and evolved into what is now an expansive menu of to-go meals and pantry and grocery items spanning its veggie-centric dishes, famous dumplings, house-baked bread, and even toilet paper.
Chef Morales and Chef Peters are two of the nine chefs and foodservice operators honored during United Fresh LIVE!’s Retail-Foodservice Celebration General Session.
“We’re thrilled to support this excellent program for the industry and honor leading chefs and foodservice professionals who are elevating the profile and increasing the consumption of fresh produce,” said Steve Grinstead, Chief Executive Officer of FreshEdge™, one of the sponsors of the award.
The Produce Excellence in Foodservice Award program, now concluding its 13th year, felt especially significant in 2020.
“We are in awe of what this year’s winners have done for their concepts and their communities during this crisis. Whether it’s changing menus overnight, donating meals to frontline workers, or banding together to support fellow culinarians in their communities, these chefs and foodservice operators are doing amazing things under incredible circumstances,” said Tom Stenzel, President and Chief Executive Officer of the United Fresh Produce Association.
Missed the festivities? The Retail-Foodservice LIVE! General Session, along with additional United Fresh LIVE! programming that took place the week of June 15, is available to watch on-demand on the United Fresh LIVE! platform until September 1.
Despite the trials and tribulations throughout the foodservice business segment, the fresh produce industry continues to see foodservice trends that drive consumption. United’s Fresh Insights for Foodservice publication highlights on-trend foodservice applications for fresh produce in restaurants, at retail, in meal kits, and more. The Spring 2020 issue has a dedicated section to the latest data and research on COVID-19, including how both consumers and foodservice operators are responding. To assist with menu planning for the fall season, the report also highlights baby lettuces, mangos, produce-driven side dishes, acorn squash, grapes, tacos, and other new applications for fresh produce.
“There is no question that our industry is facing extraordinary challenges during this pandemic, but I am humbled by the efforts of our supply chain partners and the overall generosity of our industry. This issue of Fresh Insights highlights several operators who, despite circumstances, are continuing to include and highlight fresh produce on their menus, which is both inspiring and encouraging,” said Sarah Grady, Manager, U.S. Strategic Supply Chain, McDonald’s Corporation and Chair of the United Fresh Retail-Foodservice Board.
The United Fresh Retail Foodservice Board hosted a webinar upon the issue’s release to dive deeper into the content. To ensure the total supply chain—including impacted restaurant and foodservice supply chain partners—have the latest information to make informed business decisions, both the Spring Issue and the on-demand recording of the webinar are available free of charge for all on the United Fresh website.
With the economies and dynamics of the day in such flux, the team at United Fresh is responding to the needs of our members and the industry as we look to weather the storm together.