(Nov. 6) With restaurants struggling in a weak economy, some produce distributors are looking for other sources of foodservice business.

“The restaurant trend is down all over the place,” said Ervin Pavlofsky, co-owner of ProduceOne, Dayton, Ohio. “We’re definitely seeing some closings. We’re emphasizing our sales efforts on universities and health care because of the changes in the economy. It’s more dependable. There aren’t as many highs and lows in that business.”

The Dayton area took a hit in June when General Motors announced plans to close an assembly plant in Moraine, affecting more than 2,000 workers and more than 100 other companies that supply the plant.

According to a study released in June by the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, the state lost more than 130,000 manufacturing jobs from 2001 to 2005 and is expected to lose 77,000 more by 2014.

“We’ve seen more bankruptcies than we have in 10 years,” said Tom Sirna, president of Sirna & Sons Produce, Ravenna, Ohio. “We’ve gotten more aggressive in institutional business. We’re doing business with the county, prison, healthcare, colleges. You’re going to see breakfast, lunch and dinner at all those places. You have a captive audience in all those concepts. If you’re going to eat, you’re going to eat there.”

Sirna said restaurant concepts that are doing well are those that don’t serve alcohol and don’t require tipping.

“That brings the price down,” he said. “Any concept that shows the consumer value is doing well.”

Rod Caminiti, vice president of Flatow Riley Inc., Cincinnati, said restaurants in his area are doing fine on the weekends, but people are staying home more on weeknights.

“It’s been a tough, struggling year,” he said. “We’re just trying to survive the downturn in the economy, and hopefully things will pick back up.”

Not all the news is bad. According to the Ohio Restaurant Association, there are more than 27,000 eating and drinking establishments in the state with projected sales of $16 billion a year. The association estimates that revenue is increasing 5.8% each year.

“The good operators are doing well, and our numbers are up in the foodservice category,” said Ed Sabin, president and chief operating officer of Gentile Bros. Co., Cincinnati.

Bill Schuler, president and chief executive officer of Castellini Co., Wilder, Ky., said the company is maintaining foodservice sales.

“You have to make sure you’re delivering value, even more so with the current economic conditions,” he said.