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The Making of a Masterpiece: A Q&A With Deena Ensworth, Senior Content Manager, Markon Cooperative

The Making of a Masterpiece: A Q&A With Deena Ensworth, Senior Content Manager, Markon Cooperative

An empty plate is a blank canvas. Like an artist taking their paintbrushes to the space in front of them, chefs continuously turn to the mouthwatering flavors and breathtaking hues fresh produce possesses to concoct striking culinary creations. As foodservice operators set out to bring an unmatched vibrancy to each plate they present, Markon Cooperative is helping its partners achieve this feat with flying colors.

Offering up a vast portfolio of fresh products that maximize savings, convenience, and return on investment, while simultaneously helping to ease some of the pressures presently impacting the industry, the foodservice trendsetter provides everything it takes to truly transform ingredients into art.

If there is anything I learned from my high school Introduction to Art class—the only one I’ve ever taken, I might add—it’s that the method through which you create hugely impacts the end result. If you ask me, there is no better medium than fresh produce.

This is one belief Deena Ensworth, Senior Content Manager, and I wholeheartedly agree on as we set aside a moment to discuss Markon Cooperative’s favorable portfolio and all the creative ways operators are wielding it to their advantage.

Settle into your seats, and join us in the making of a masterpiece.

Peggy Packer: Deena, the foodservice segment is bursting with opportunities as diners seek out new ways to evolve their palates and cultural experiences! With exciting flavor combinations and global food trends continuing to generate new demands in the space, how do each of Markon’s innovative brands deliver on the current needs of the restaurant industry? What benefits do these offerings bring to foodservice operators?

Deena Ensworth, Senior Content Manager, Markon Cooperative: Markon has three brands that fit the different categories operators need. Our value-added line, Ready-Set-Serve®, offers items that can be used right out of the bag or carton, alleviating labor shortages and giving chefs extra time to ideate and focus on creativity. This line is also known for its consistent prices and year-round availability, which takes the pressure off of budget spikes and product shortages. For this reason especially, this brand has been a major player in post-pandemic kitchens.

We also offer whole commodity produce through our Markon First Crop® brand. The benefits of this lineup include tight specs, stringent food safety, and excellent quality for items that aren’t necessarily appropriate for pre-cut offerings.

Last but not least, our Markon Essentials® line offers flavor and value when presentation isn’t a primary factor in the dish. For example, think of items that might be puréed, mashed, or cooked in soups. This line takes a sustainable approach by keeping produce that is off-grade in appearance—but not flavor—out of landfills and oceans, while also providing direct cost savings for our partners.

All three of our brands are always GMO- and gluten-free. Each is also backed by Markon’s 5-Star Food Safety® promise, which is based on specifications, inspections, and information regarding fields, facilities, transportation, distributor warehouses, and the kitchen. With five independently owned foodservice distributor partners located across the United States and Canada, we are able to provide farm-fresh, quality produce right to our foodservice customers’ kitchens.

“Our Ready-Set-Serve® line of value-added products has been extremely helpful in easing some of the labor challenges operators are experiencing across all segments.”

Deena Ensworth, Senior Content Manager, Markon Cooperative

PP: These brands are clearly crafted to bring top value to foodservice operators, and I’m sure they each appeal to a unique set of demands. Which produce items have encountered the most notable growth in the foodservice industry, and what products does Markon offer within these rising categories?

DE: The value-added segment continues to grow, particularly our lightly processed items, such as washed and trimmed Romaine lettuce or jumbo whole onions. Our Ready-Set-Serve line of value-added products has been extremely helpful in easing some of the labor challenges operators are experiencing across all segments. These items also reduce storage and space needs in coolers, in addition to reducing staff injuries and lowering waste. Whether it’s our versatile line of salads and blends, broccoli and cauliflower florets, halved Brussels sprouts, or trimmed green beans, these time and labor savings add up—often to thousands of dollars that can be put to better use within our partners’ operations.

PP: With all of these value-added options to choose from, I know chefs are finding convenient and creative new ways to reinvent their menus, often with fresh produce at the center. Do you have any tips for culinary experts who are looking to spice up their menu creation in the name of fresh?

DE: The top two generations currently driving purchases, millennials and Gen Z, say that craveable dishes with a health halo are top of mind. Using fresh fruits and vegetables immediately adds nutrients to whatever dish they’re incorporated into, increasing this appeal for consumers. On top of that, bright colors, different textures, and bold flavors all contribute to the here-to-stay trend of produce at the center of the plate.

PP: You know that is one trend we here at The Snack can definitely get behind! While we’re on the topic of consumers’ dining-out behaviors, what other trends have you noticed in both the fresh produce and foodservice industries? How does Markon ensure it is growing alongside these rising consumer trends?

DE: The past few years have been unique, beginning with the pandemic, leading to supply and labor shortages, inflation, and a possible recession. Foodservice operations are navigating through uncharted waters, and menus are reflecting that in many ways.

Gen Z, the most culturally diverse and digitally dominated generation yet, is in the driver’s seat, and they want experiential dining. They also care about sustainability efforts and crave global flavors presented in comforting dishes. Savvy operators are meeting these expectations through creative menus and personal service that establishes authenticity. Markon’s job is to provide them with consistently high-quality fruit, vegetables, and juices that help operators with steady budgeting, reduced back-of-house labor through pre-cut ingredients in convenient packs, dependable food safety, and delicious flavors.

PP: It has been a rapid period of adaptation and evolution for the produce industry and the foodservice arena. Looking ahead, how do you expect the foodservice sector to continue evolving in the near future? What demand shifts do you anticipate, and how will Markon remain on the leading edge of the industry as these shifts take place?

DE: The industry has had to pivot and adjust in ways previously unimaginable in a short time. The old model is gone, and many of the recent challenges are here to stay. Markon looks forward to helping all facets of foodservice operations navigate the “new normal,” which, now, is just “normal.” We are putting efforts toward future innovations at all levels—product development, packaging solutions, transportation advances, and increased training in the safety and culinary arenas.

We are open and eager to remain the go-to produce solution for our current and future customers.

“We are putting efforts toward future innovations at all levels—product development, packaging solutions, transportation advances, and increased training in the safety and culinary arenas.”

PP: There’s nothing like a strong partner who can help you through ongoing industry challenges and other unprecedented shakeups. Apart from its unwavering dedication to supporting its restaurateur allies with time and cost-saving fresh produce solutions, what elevates Markon as an ideal partner for foodservice operators?

DE: For over 35 years, Markon’s team of produce experts, together with our industry-leading distribution partners and passionate suppliers, have set the standards for produce food safety, product innovation, and sustainable supply chain and packaging solutions. We have established strong partnerships across the supply chain that have allowed us to operate and maintain high fill rates in comparison to other categories.

At Markon, our goal is and will always be to create products that help operators gain efficiencies, save costs, and attract customers.

Art is intended to evoke emotion and connection. Can the same not be said about the imaginative dishes crafted by restaurant visionaries looking to enliven a consumer’s day with each bite?

While Deena illustrates the abundant advantages of this impressive foodservice portfolio, an image clearly comes together before me. It is the depiction of true artistry—the way Markon brandishes creativity with over three decades’ worth of skill and technique to aid cooks in constructing captivating and flavorful works of art.

One need not be the next Picasso or Frida Kahlo. All you need is a clear vision and the helping hands of Markon Cooperative. 

The Making of a Masterpiece: A Q&A With Deena Ensworth, Senior Content Manager, Markon Cooperative