PRO*ACT's Mary Wright-Rana Discusses United Fresh's 2017 Produce Excellence in Foodservice Awards

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Mon. December 12th, 2016 - by Laura Hillen

WASHINGTON, DC - Always looking for new dishes and produce-infused meals, today’s consumer gains ideas for new plates and time-tested favorites from the passion and creativity of a segment that our industry knows well; foodservice. Thus, United Fresh is looking to honor another wave of culinary innovators with this year’s Produce Excellence in Foodservice Awards

Mary Wright-Rana, Director of Marketing Relations, PRO*ACTWith nominations open now until January 15, 2017, PRO*ACT Director of Marketing Relations, Mary Wright-Rana joined me to discuss the essence of the awards that PRO*ACT helped create, and has sponsored every year since:

Q: How did this program come to be, and why is it important for the Produce in Excellence Foodservice Awards Program to continue?

Mary Wright-Rana: Ten years ago, in 2007, our team at PRO*ACT spearheaded the Foodservice Awards Program together with United Fresh after seeing the opportunities in honoring retail produce managers. This is a unique chance to yearly and publically recognize the important role that foodservice, chefs, and culinary experts play and influence on our side of the industry. The commitment to produce is apparent in so many different aspects of foodservice, and there’s a constant dedication to moving produce to the center of the plate that is unique and should be celebrated. By honoring foodservice operators and their creativity, this program brings the importance of foodservice directly to produce and increases consumption across the board.

2016 Winners of the Excellence in Foodservice Awards Program at the United Fresh Retail-Foodservice Celebration Dinner

Q: As you’ve sponsored the program over a decade, how has it evolved?

MWR: The program first kicked off with five different categories to honor chefs, and it’s grown steadily ever since. This year we’re adding Hospitals and Healthcare, and Hotels and Resorts to our list of new divisions which also includes K-12 School Foodservice, and Colleges and Universities. That makes eight categories total. As interest has grown over the years, we know that it’s also important to expand the categories to include recognition for the diverse possibilities that each sector offers. Our first year we had 59 nominations, and we are expecting to surpass last year’s number of 124 nominations with this year’s program.

2016 Foodservice Award Winners participating in the Learning Center as presenters of Chef Insights panel

Q: What type of chefs and operators does the program aim to honor?

MWR: The chefs we expect to see this year are going to springboard using produce as the center of the plate and really take it to the next level. That means, not just plating produce simply, but using different combinations and creative styles to make produce visually appealing and easily recreated. Our award winners translate fresh fruit and vegetables into further innovations, and methods of consumption. In that sense, we expect strong representation from the K-12 side of foodservice, and the healthcare arena. Chefs who operate in environments that serve quantity and quality, and emphasize new understandings of what a good meal is, are highly valued by the Awards Program.

Winners of the 2016 Foodservice Awards exploring produce on the United Fresh floor

Going forward, some of the challenges on the foodservice side will be the education of the end consumer, taking social media use even further, and focus on regional products to supplement creations. These same challenges are ones that we also see on the fresh produce side, and we look forward to rewarding innovative solutions to these issues within the Foodservice Awards Program. 

Q: How does foodservice uplift our industry, and what can honorees expect going forward?

MWR: One of the reasons we started the Produce in Excellence Foodservice Awards Program was to emphasize the passion for produce that is inherent in these chefs and operators. That passion, and need to see what’s new and innovative, is something that goes hand-in-hand between the foodservice and fresh produce industries. The United Fresh team, from Tom Stenzel through the whole organization, supports this program with such care and continued focus on how it can evolve.

2016 Foodservice Award Winners walking the floor at 2016 to experience the fresh produce offerings

Seeing how innovation continues to expand during the conference, especially for all the new things in store for 2017, is truly an amazing thing. We tell people that whenever they get an award, they are part of the PRO*ACT and United Fresh families; and seeing how chefs over the years are able to use this program to help make their dreams come true is a depth of emotion that you can’t find anywhere else. We can’t wait for everyone to see what this year has to offer!

As trends and culinary experiments continue to swirl throughout the foodservice realm, exposing more consumers to the possibilities of produce, United Fresh and PRO*ACT will seek to add more nominations to the over 880 influencers submitted over the years. 

Each of the eight innovative chefs selected for each category will be provided complimentary airfare and registration to United Fresh 2017 and two nights hotel accommodations, in addition to receiving a Commemorative Award and on-stage recognition during the Retail-Foodservice Celebration dinner. 

Know your own foodservice pioneer who matches the innovation of the Produce in Excellence Foodservice Awards Program? Keep pushing produce forward with your own nominations.

United Fresh