PLANT CITY, Fla. — Though retailers remain the biggest buyers of Florida strawberries, the foodservice segment continues to be a consistent purchaser.
Many Florida grower-shippers send fruit to retail distribution centers, but the wholesalers that distribute to restaurants and other foodservice institutions also purchase the fruit and constitute an important customer, grower-shippers report.
Foodservice sales represent about 30% of the sales by Colorful Harvest LLC and other wholesale sales account for 25%, said Jeremy Burris, vice president of sales and sourcing for the Salinas, Calif.-based company’s Florida division.
As more chefs discover what strawberries can do for their menus, foodservice interest is growing, he said.
“Colorful Harvest recognizes the fact that 50% of U.S. food dollars are spent at restaurants,” Burris said.
“We are driven to reach as many foodservice purveyors as possible. One reason we like foodservice purveyors is because they are in the deal 12 months out of the year. Their volume doesn’t really change that much and are providing restaurants a certain amount of fruit seven days a week. We definitely see that opportunity.”
Sales to foodservice purveyors and other wholesalers constitute the majority of sales for Hinton Farms Produce Inc.
The business is strong but has changed over the years from the consignment purchases that use to be used by many wholesalers on terminal markets, said Cammy Hinton, office manager.
“The consignment market is totally different,” she said.
“Those market people, they have their customers in their area, the purveyors and local grocery and foodservice people that are buying to order. They’re not buying fruit to set out on the street and hope someone comes to buy like they use to. The business is healthy and very good.”
Sales to foodservice purveyors aren’t significant for Astin Strawberry Exchange LLC, which focuses on the higher value retail segment, said Shawn Pollard, salesman.
If Astin sells to foodservice, it’s likely through a third party, he said.
“In the past, we have seen interest,” Pollard said.
“The problem is a lot of times when we need to push extra product, they (foodservice wholesalers) don’t have the capability of doing it. Their orders are probably steady and consistent and are likely good business, but, for what we’re doing, the retail setup is better.”
Foodservice sales aren’t large either for Wish Farms, said Gary Wishnatzki, president and CEO.
“We have always sold to that side of the business, but it’s never been the leading segment,” he said.
To help encourage chefs to use more strawberries in their creations, the Florida Strawberry Growers Association works with them through a chefs advisory board.
Recently, the Dover-based association made presentations to a group of more than 100 chefs at Orlando culinary schools.
The presentations included involvement of a grower and showed the chefs how they can use strawberries, providing them taste tests.
“We get good feedback on variety flavor,” said Sue Harrell, director of marketing.
“We want to make sure the restaurants are including fresh strawberries on their menus during our season. Consumers want to see that on the menus and they will see a lot more berries in the restaurants as we are seeing more chef interest.”
About a quarter of the sales of Dover-based Gulf Coast Produce Inc. go to wholesalers distributing to foodservice accounts and the business is important, said Steve Machell, sales manager.
“Foodservice is a very good business,” he said. “As more people are eating out, I see interest in this segment getting bigger in the future.”