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Is fresh produce driving your inventory costs up? Here are a few suggestions.

By Katya Baxter, Nutritionist, MenuMax.com

Meeting consumer demand for healthier menu options often means expanding your produce inventory. And we all know how expensive it can be, especially when we are talking ‘organic’ and ‘out of season’.

Let’s look at some of the ways you can draw the most value out of your fruits and vegetables and make them work for your bottom line while keeping your costs under control.

  1. Pick your organic battles. You don’t have to have organic vegetables throughout your entire menu. Pick two, three dishes where you can feature high quality, organic produce as ‘the stars’ of the plate. For example, Red Lentil Salad served with Organic Micro Greens or an organic Baby Spinach Salad served with herb infused vinaigrette. Note that while the dish may be focused around organic produce, the rest of the ingredients don’t have to be organic.
  2. Place pickles on the map. Pickled products are often overlooked, but they are a wonderful option especially if you are looking for a healthful, locally sourced ingredient that is not in season. And by the way, when it comes to shelf life, you definitely can’t go wrong! How about dressing that sandwich with a couple of slices of Handcrafted Pickles from your local farm? That small nuance can create a completely different picture in the eyes of your customer while doubling the appeal of the dish.
  3. Put your seasonal veggies hat on. Food served in bowls, for example, is a comfort food, and is usually associated with something warm and cozy. It is a perfect winter food, and kids love it! So how about using a winter vegetable, such as kabocha or acorn squash instead of a bread or a regular ceramic bowl? An excellent version that is not only seasonal, but also has great nutritional value. Can you think of other ideas that can make for an interesting, yet healthful menu item?
  4. Explore produce combinations with popular foods. Let’s take oatmeal, for example. A dish that is growing in popularity especially when it comes to a healthier, on-the-go breakfast option. It can be served with a variety of toppings, from brown sugar to nuts. Is there room for additional value? How about an Organic Field Berry compote for a topping? Frozen berries are less cost prohibitive than fresh, they rank high on the ‘healthy’ scale, they generally have greater taste appeal, and, as we already discussed earlier, you can use them as the main feature in your dish. Oatmeal is one example, but there are plenty of other emerging popular trends that are waiting to be ‘dressed’ with healthful elements that are becoming more and more appealing to the consumer.

These suggestions will help you capitalize on the value that different types of produce can provide for your bottom line. With the federal food safety law just passed, Tester amendment will potentially be one of the key elements directly affecting restaurants. As you comply with the regulations and trace sources of your produce, make sure you capitalize on this information by translating it onto your menu. It will result in menus that tell a better story, have greater appeal, and ultimately, provide better nourishment for your customers.

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