The slowdown in the economy has brought reports of falling revenues — many in the double-digit range — from foodservice operations across the country. Not all restaurants are willing to give up without a fight.
“Especially fast-food restaurants are responding,” said Ed Odron of Ed Odron Produce Marketing and Consulting, Stockton, Calif. “It’s the rare day when a direct mail piece or two are not in my mailbox.”
Casual-dining operations are also campaigning, Odron said, pointing to a free breakfast offering at Denny’s and all-you-can-eat pancakes at International House of Pancakes stores.
Sales of value-added fresh-cut products to foodservice will be as strong as the chains that are buying them, said Michael Spinazzola, president, DRS Inc., San Diego. Among his clients: Subway.
“Sales are up at Subway, so we are going to be buying more,” he said.
Where grower-shippers can better serve foodservice, Spinazzola said, is in developing different packages that lead to longer shelf life.
“That will increase more opportunity for us to put the products into the system,” he said.
Pre-harvest food safety and cold chain management are critical for foodservice, Spinazzola said, particularly the cold chain.
“It’s one of the biggest challenges out there in all of the fresh produce segments,” he said. “It’s our goal to keep tightening the supply chain for quality purposes.”
There are products that create a sound marriage between foodservice and value-added fresh-cut items. Carrots are an example.
“There’s a tremendous savings from a labor standpoint with foodservice,” said Phil Gruszka, vice president of marketing for Grimmway Farms, Bakersfield, Calif. “They’re quick to embrace our products.”
Grimmway’s yellow carrot varieties have started to catch on with foodservice, he said.
“The shreds, for instance, are a very economical, easy way to make things visually interesting,” Gruszka said.
There has been no slowdown in sales to customers of Fresh Origins, San Marcos, Calif., said owner David Sasuga. The company’s conventionally grown, but sometimes nontraditional, products sell to high-end restaurants across the country, he said.
Younger chefs have a big influence on foodservice and on Fresh Origins, Sasuga said.
“The younger generation is more willing to experiment,” he said, “and the kitchen seems to be a young man’s game. It’s hard, dangerous work and long hours.”
Fast-food restaurants continue to increase their value-added offerings. Burger King has launched a salad in a bistro bowl, said Ed Byrne, co-owner and general manager of Peninsula Packaging Co., Exeter, Calif. The bistro bowl features a mixed salad with the dressing in a separate container on top.
Peninsula Packing manufactures the bistro bowl for Burger King, Byrne said.
Foodservice will be in the crosshairs of Dulcinea Farms LLC, Ladera Heights, Calif., for the rest of the year, said John McGuigan, vice president of sales and marketing.
“As the company is starting to mature, it’s time to take a look at some of the channels of distribution we haven’t sought in the past,” he said. “In fact, we’re already talking with some foodservice distributors and operators.”
The 2-pound resealable bags of sliced apples from Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash., aim at retail customers, but foodservice has welcomed the package, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director.
“They work very well for some smaller shops, but we also offer a three-pound bag for foodservice,” he said.
The Artisan Lettuces from Salinas, Calif.-based Tanimura & Antle Inc. are available to foodservice in bulk.
“The foodservice Artisans are packed in an 8-pound carton with a plastic liner. Each carton contains 16-20 heads,” said Rick Antle, president. “The carton even contains preparation instructions for the chef.”
Colorful Harvest, another Salinas-based grower-shipper-packer, offers several of its colorful produce products in bulk.
The company’s Rainbow Crunch whole peeled and cut carrots are available in a 100-count package, while diced carrots and carrot chips, sticks and shreds are offered in 5-pound bags, said Doug Ranno, chief operating officer.
Colorful Harvest’s foodservice inventory includes an 8-pound bulk pack of strawberries, he said, and it is exploring a 50-count cobbet package of the company’s red corn for foodservice.
Distance is a hurdle for some fresh-cut/value-added products, Spinazzola said.
“Salads, for example, in those nice big bowls, are almost cost-prohibitive when they have to be taken across the country,” he said.