While white-tablecloth restaurants may set the pace for fresh produce trends, industry leaders recognize the momentum-driving power of quick serve restaurants (QSR). Through widespread success of salads and other fresh menu items, chains such as Wendy’s have proven that the produce possibilities for QSR extend far beyond tomatoes and fries.
In recognition of the brand’s inroads, the New York Produce Show and Conference awarded the chain with its first annual First in Fresh award.
“Wendy’s has a long standing commitment to bringing the best in produce to millions of people in a variety of delicious, craveable ways each and every day,” said Ellen Koteff, vice president editorial for PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine, which organized the Ideation Foodservice Forum at the annual New York Produce Show and Conference. “This much beloved American brand is a truly worthy recipient of our inaugural First in Fresh Award.”
A surprised Joe Loiacano, Wendy’s senior manager of fresh produce, accepted the award on behalf of the Dublin, OH-based company during the 2016 Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum, held the day after the trade show.
“I had no clue, but I think [the award] validates what Wendy’s has done over the last 10 or 15 years — promoting salads and promoting fresh ingredients,” Loiacano said at the show.
“I’m just very grateful to PRODUCE BUSINESS and the New York Produce Show for recognizing Wendy’s and what they do. It’s just exciting to be the first to get it. It means a lot to Wendy’s and it means a lot to me.”
PRODUCE BUSINESS President Jim Prevor said the award was created to recognize outstanding contributions to innovation, collaboration and the marketing of fresh produce. Wendy’s stood out this year for the chain’s proven leadership in driving public demand for fresh choices.
“The industry has long recognized that Wendy’s was on the cutting edge of aligning its supply chain to consistently procure high quality fresh produce, but its promotions and marketing of Wendy’s produce-centric dishes to consumers to drive consumption have been exemplary,” said Prevor.
Since the days of Dave Thomas, Loiacano said Wendy’s has prioritized utilizing fresh produce. While that order once called for whole tomatoes, onions and lettuce, the Wendy’s supply chain has now expanded to include fresh strawberries, mangos, avocados, apples and jalape?os.
Although each new ingredient comes with its own learning curve, Loiacano has found the risks worthwhile. When promoted properly, he said fresh ingredients have proven time and again to beat expectations.
“We recently did a spicy guacamole, spicy chicken sandwich promotion, and we used more guacamole in eight weeks than we did in the previous two years, just by saying this is available,” said Loiacano.
“I think sometimes that’s really what is takes – just telling people what you have versus giving it away.”
Similar menu hits have left Loiacano running to keep stores supplied with enough jalape?os for sandwiches and berries for summer salads, among other newly popular ingredients.
High demand for perishable fresh products leaves no room for mistakes, added Loiacano. When it comes to successfully pulling off perishable programs, he depends on reliable supply chain partnerships with companies such as FreshPoint and Sysco.
As the chain continues to launch and explore new meals, Loiacano said his focus would remain on fresh and flavorful items. While consumers may not appreciate the work necessary to supply such ingredients, he pointed to consistency in sales as evidence that the industry’s efforts are paying off.