Basil-topped pizza appearing in healthy restaurant menus.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, vegetable and fruit agriculture has been heading in the direction of homogenization — with the arrival of genetically-modified varieties in 1973 only accelerating the process. However, customer demand for healthy restaurant menus has begun to turn the tide in the opposite direction with specialty crops that are capturing the public’s imagination. Read on to discover what this new trend in cuisine means for California’s growers in terms of seed selection, R&D, marketing, and more.

Fast Food Is Getting a Makeover

Remember the days when the Happy Meal contained a cheeseburger, box of fries, a small plastic toy, and a bottle of Coke? Well today, your Happy Meal or Mighty Kids Meal is more likely to come with a packet of crunchy apple slices or an easy-peel mandarin than it is to come with a side serving of fries or a bottle of chocolate milk. Wendy’s is getting on the bandwagon with healthy restaurant menus too. Alongside your seasoned potatoes and chicken nugget sandwich, you can now order a wide range of posh salads and a bottle of freshly-squeezed non-GMO orange juice.

According to a Deloitte survey, 75% of Americans consider that they eat healthily, and 83% of Americans would like to see more healthy choices on fast food menus. These statistics show us that this movement towards healthier food is coming from the customers themselves and is a trend that we can expect to see increase as we move into the coming decades.

Gourmet Greens

Will any splash of green do to satisfy modern customers’ palates? Sales trends indicate that a higher level of creativity is needed these days. In the groundswell for healthy restaurant menus, what we’re seeing emerge are niche products like roasted organic heirloom carrots and inventive cultivars like broccolini — created by a partnership between Mann Packing (now owned by Dole) and Sakata Seed and introduced to the United States in 1996.

Thanks in no small part to shows like Good Eats and MasterChef, veggies have been transformed from the run-of-the-mill lettuce and tomato side salad to haute side dishes that are tasty enough to turn any millennial into a vegetable-loving foodie. This welcome trend could be a boon for growers who are already tapping into the millennial market.

Easy-Peel Citrus and Signature Berries.

Peeled mandarins in a metal bowl.

In the fruit agriculture sector, demand for new varieties is taking on a somewhat different form. Whereas vegetables are changing in color and size, fruits that are featured in healthy restaurant menus are more geared towards convenience and flavor. 

Take the easy-peel mandarin, for example. Launched by Mulholland Citrus, this seedless, easy-peel variety was created from a citrus variety that was found in Morocco and subsequently introduced in the United States. With less mess and fuss in the eating, these new kinds of citrus are making healthy food more convenient for consumers.

On the flavor side of the cards, we have Driscoll’s new varieties of berries. Created through traditional hand cross-pollination and supported by a large research and development (R&D) team, Driscoll’s Sunshine Raspberries and Blush Berries offer unique, juicy flavors and an attractive appearance that’s enticing for consumers.

Getting in on the Trend

Healthy restaurant menus really are transforming the industry, and here’s how you can get in on the craze:

Sourcing Unusual Seeds

The standard seed varieties are typically chosen for their hardiness and “standard” appearance. However, customers are getting more adventurous. Alongside your red, round tomatoes and pear-shaped Romas, consider planting a row of heirloom pink Brandywine tomatoes or the rich-tasting Black Krim variety — both good choices for California Zone 12 and popular for their color and flavor.

For other more specialized crops, consider joining up with a seed-saving club or ordering heirloom seeds online. Getting your delicacies on local healthy restaurant menus could give you a commercial edge that boosts your sales while encouraging healthy eating habits around the country.

Research and Development

As we saw regarding fruit agriculture, an investment in research and development can pay impressive dividends down the track with new and improved varieties of produce that make customers’ lives that little bit easier.

While R&D might seem out of reach for many small family businesses, tapping into existing research projects or experimenting with cultivars yourself can go a long way towards growing new varieties that customers can enjoy as part of delicious and healthy restaurant menus. Traditional techniques like manual cross-pollination and open pollination with the parent plants positioned close together provide a cost-effective way to experiment until you stumble upon the perfect match.

Marketing Your Produce

Helping the public connect with your produce takes strategic connections and a healthy dose of marketing. Begin with healthy restaurant menus at your local establishments that are still familiar enough to the local palate and tap into up-and-coming markets by lauding the unique features of your produce. Are your lemons less tart? Your lettuces more colorful? Your beets more swirly? Your carrots more flavorful? Changing the public’s taste takes time, but the above-cited research indicates that the move is towards more healthy options, so you might find that there’s already a sizable market.

Out-of-the-Box Thinking

Healthy restaurant menus are a great starting point, but why not bring the fun closer to home? Growers of all descriptions are connecting customers with food from the source with the following creative ideas:

  • U-pick opportunities over summer
  • Drive-thru and bike-thru farm tours
  • Kitchen-garden style harvest cooking workshops
  • Farm experiences for school students and the public 

As customers smell the produce, learn how to prepare it, and experience the flavor of fruit and vegetables that are picked at the peak point of maturity, it’s only a matter of time before the demand for healthy restaurant menus and specialty fruit agriculture becomes the norm.

Up Your Game with Fruit Growers Supply Company

Established in 1907, Fruit Growers Supply Co. has seen dozens of culinary trends arise over the years and helped California’s growers to capitalize on each wave. After the Green Revolution of the 1970s, the more recent trends towards local, sustainable, and healthy food is an especially exciting development for agriculture with the potential to bring back rare varieties of fruits and vegetables and keep profits for growers high while improving the health of people and the environment.

Not sure where to start with getting your produce onto healthy restaurant menus? Check out our tips for marketing fruit for novice orchard owners and contact us about specialty supplies, customized corrugated packing boxes, food-grade citrus wax, and solar-powered commercial irrigation systems designed to help your enterprise thrive.

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