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IFPA meetings connect school menu planners with growers, processors

Last week, the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) coordinated a series of "speed dating" meetings to connect produce companies with menu planners and procurement officials from several major city U.S. school districts. With 11 school districts participating and just as many produce companies, IFPA helped to facilitate more than 120 meetings as part of the two-day event.

The School Foodservice Partner X-Change program connects buyers and sellers for 15-minute "speed dating" meetings, all coordinated virtually over Zoom. School administrators get to ask questions and share information about a range of topics including menu planning, procurement, packaging needs and their interest in nutrition education and other materials that provide greater insight into where and how certain produce is grown. Produce suppliers share their knowledge of the industry while also highlighting their company's capabilities and products, including bulk produce, fresh-cut items, ordering processes, and more.

"This program brings together audiences that often do not speak with each other, bridging the gap to better understand school food service needs and interests," said Andrew Marshall, IFPA's staff liaison for wholesaler-distributor members, and lead staffer on engagement opportunities with the K-12 school nutrition community. "Increasing the variety of fresh produce that students are exposed to at school is a shared priority, and this 'speed dating' program is helping to jump-start these types of conversations."

Left to right: Andrew Marshall, Crystal Chavez

This year's program also included companies that provide schools with small-scale kitchen equipment for peeling and processing fruits and vegetables in-house, as well as a company that's working with schools to provide vertical hydroponic growing towers with an accompanying nutrition education curriculum.

"As a company that services a range of food service customers, we value these meetings as an opportunity for interaction with school menu planners, many of whom are looking for new, on-trend slaws and veggie blends that mimic what their students see at local quick-serve and other restaurant formats," said Crystal Chavez, marketing manager for Gold Coast Packing.

To build upon this mid-year virtual program, IFPA is once again planning to coordinate a K-12 School Forum programming track at the Foodservice Conference, July 25-26, in Monterey, California. This summer program is focused on supporting school menu planners in sourcing, serving, and promoting fresh fruits and vegetables to children at school. School foodservice leaders from across the country will participate in IFPA's conference sessions, explore new products at the expo, tour nearby growing fields, and connect with existing and new suppliers.

For additional information about the K-12 School Foodservice Partner X-Change and other programs and resources for school food service operators, contact Andrew Marshall, wholesaler-distributor relations and external partnerships, at (202) 303-3407.

For more information:
Ashley Sempowski
International Fresh Produce Association

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