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May 5, 2023
IFPA connects school districts, produce suppliers

The International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) coordinated a School Foodservice Partner X-Change in early May to connect produce companies with K-12 school menu planners from 15 of the largest U.S. school districts.

The Partner X-Change was developed to enhance the produce industry’s understanding of these large-volume food service customers and to create opportunities to increase children’s access and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables at school. The virtual event connects buyers and sellers for 15-minute “speed dating” meetings where school administrators share information about a range of topics including menu planning, procurement processes and more.  Produce suppliers also had the opportunity to highlight their company’s capabilities and products including bulk produce, fresh cut items, and more.


“K-12 schools are a unique customer that’s serving meals and snacks to thousands of schoolchildren every day,” Andrew Marshall, IFPA’s staff liaison for wholesaler-distributor members and lead staffer on engagement opportunities with the K-12 school nutrition community, said in a news release.

“This Partner X-Change connects school foodservice administrators and produce companies to learn from each other, discuss current needs and potential collaboration opportunities, all while also helping both sides understand each other’s business priorities and challenges,” Marshall said in the release.

Every day, 31 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program.  Schools are required to offer a fruit and a vegetable, and students must exit the lunch line with at least one serving of produce on their plate.  Many schools also offer breakfast and an after-school supper program, both of which must adhere to nutrition standards that require offering fruit and vegetables. Additionally, more than 7,000 elementary schools across the country offer in-class fresh fruit and vegetable snacks as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP).


“Schools are an important customer for our business, and having the opportunity to connect with a geographically diverse selection of major city school districts is very helpful, in part so we can get a greater sense of what’s happening in school foodservice departments across the country,” Alex DiNovo, president and chief operating officer of DNO Produce, said in the release. “These meetings provide an opportunity for our team to ask questions, share industry insights, and also highlight the products and services DNO provides to school customers and distributor partners.”


Barbara Harral, a registered dietitian nutritionist and child nutrition director for the Montgomery County Public Schools in Gaithersburg, Maryland, was one of this year’s school food service Partner X-Change participants, along with members of her menu planning and procurement team.

“We value our collaborations with IFPA and the produce industry, and this virtual program creates a new opportunity for our team to learn about the variety of produce options that exist,” Harral said in the release. “We’re hopeful that this will lead to more insightful conversations with our distributor, and also enable the more than 100,000 students that we serve each day to experience some new fruit and vegetables going forward.”



Schools districts participating in the event were:

  • Aurora Public Schools, Colorado
  • Capistrano Unified School District, California
  • Cobb County School District, Georgia
  • Detroit Public Schools Community District
  • Elk Grove Unified School District, California
  • Houston Independent School District
  • Leon County Schools, Florida
  • Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland
  • North East Independent School District, Texas
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools
  • Omaha Public Schools, Nebraska
  • Sodexo at School (multi-state)
  • Urban School Food Alliance (multi-state)
  • Wake County Schools, North Carolina
  • West Ada Public Schools, Idaho

Participating produce companies were:

  • Bee Sweet Citrus
  • Church Brothers Farms
  • DNO Produce
  • Gold Coast Packing
  • Grimmway Farms
  • HMC Farms
  • Mushrooms in Schools
  • Nature’s Reward
  • Prime Time International
  • Produce Alliance
  • Sunkist Foodservice Equipment
  • Taylor Farms
  • The Healthy Family Project

In July, the association will host K-12 school menu planners at the IFPA Foodservice Conference, July 27-28, in Monterey, California. The association is inviting K-12 school buyers from major city school districts. School attendees will get to explore new products at the expo, participate in tours of 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 foodservice operators, contact IFPA’s Marshall at [email protected] or 202-303-3407.


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