Fresh-cut produce is a must for many foodservice operators and a moneymaker for some who have made it a core competency.

Over the last year, St. Paul, Minn.-based J&J Distributing Inc. launched a line of salads that have made their way to the shelves of Kowalski’s Markets as private-label products.

The winter’s salad had mandarin oranges, nuts and dried fruit.

J&J is working on adding feta cheese to its supply chain, and is still developing salads with protein components, although the protein offering doesn’t seem as popular as the company once predicted.

“Protein’s been a bit slow. Demand at retail for a salad with protein wasn’t what we thought,” Hannigan said. “But we just found some smoked turkey that we might use. Right now we have none with chicken breast, none of that yet.”

When it comes to fresh-cut fruit, J&J Distributing has realized that bigger is not always better.

The company developed a smaller pack size for a customer that was looking to be able to offer less product at a lower price to consumers, and it turned out to be a success, Hannigan said.

“People are really buying this,” Hannigan said.

The company processes fresh-cut produce in-house and mainly services the retail sector. Hannigan said there’s a plan for working with more customers, particular for deli and foodservice business.

Popular items this year include High Five, the company’s cryopacked vegetable tray, and its cored pineapple.

“Those items are now being looked at as a way to save on labor, save on people getting hurt in the kitchen,” said Mike McLeod, produce manager for Cloquet, Minn.-based Upper Lakes Foods.

For foodservice, McLeod said popular items include sliced and diced onions, as well as pineapple and honeydew chunks as summer offerings.

Upper Lakes Foods works with Inver Grove Heights, Minn.-based Cut Fruit Express Inc. for all of its fresh-cut produce, with the exception of lettuce, which are cut in California before they’re shipped.

“They’re the best in the area, definitely the best place I’ve seen,” McLeod said. “I think we’re one out of about five distributors who use Cut Fruit.”