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NWPB initiatives look to place more watermelon on menus

The National Watermelon Promotion Board’s Foodservice program has a goal of placing more watermelon on menus, year-round, to move more watermelon through the supply chain and to keep watermelon top-of-mind with consumers.

To help achieve this, the NWPB uses operator success stories with watermelon to earn or pay for placements in foodservice publications to inspire other operators, according to Megan McKenna, senior director of marketing and foodservice.

In May, the board was set to sponsor the International Foodservice Editorial Council’s Annual Bubble Party during the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago to connect with editors, as well as have them taste watermelon dishes as we welcome the spring/summer crop.

“This creates content for use across the program, like the ongoing work with the Culinary Institute of American Watermelon ProChef Series,” said McKenna. “New content on another growing region will be developed this year for the Year-Round Watermelon Story to tell the story of where watermelon come from and connect it to cuisines.”

McKenna added that a new guide, Watermelon Flavor Dynamics, has recently been added to Watermelon.org/foodservice, which is the site for watermelon education and inspiration for foodservice professionals.

The NWPB partners with organizations and sponsors foodservice events to reach different audiences and fill the pipeline with operator leads. Commercial and noncommercial operators are reached through:

• National Association of College & University Food Services

• School Nutrition Association and Healthy School Recipes (both reaching future consumers through education)

• International Fresh Produce Association Foodservice Show: A tasting station will offer a watermelon flavor experience.

• Flavor Experience: Flavor is one of the most trend-forward events for marketing and culinary decision makers — the perfect place for watermelon to be served. The 2021 operator survey revealed 95 percent of attendees were likely to procure new items based on flavor sponsor offering. 

• Beverage Menu Outreach — Opportunities are still being vetted but research and trends show this is an important audience for watermelon usage. This is the only menu section where watermelon grew during the pandemic.

In other events this year, the NWPB will invest in FoodOvation Exchanges in June and September. FoodOvation is built around 12, 40-minute, 1-on-1 ideation sessions with operators (ranked by preference ahead of the conference).

“This event takes the relationships established at events like Flavor Experience to the next level,” said McKenna. 

The board supports chains through ideation sessions by going into their kitchens and showcasing how to handle and highlight watermelon on their menus. Promotions support those menu items and keep watermelon messages in front of consumers.

Additionally, McKenna said a partnership for a StarChef Watermelon Discovery Week will place watermelon on restaurant menus in eight markets across the county with up-and-coming chefs in June. Recipes, photography and chef profiles will be available for the board to use with media and at events. This in-restaurant promotion will be supported with menu messages and a social media contest. 

Lastly, McKenna said, the board reaches culinary students and educators with the Culinary Education program. The Watermelon Culinary Curriculum is accredited with five continuing education hours through the American Culinary Federation.

The Center for the Advancement of Foodservice Educators will host their annual conference in June. The NWPB will be there to host a panel on the Future of Food and reach foodservice education.

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