Foodservice demands a lot of patience and persistence from grape shippers, because that category demands fruit that meets exacting standards, those shippers say.
However, persistence can pay off, said Jared Lane, sales manager for Los Angeles-based Stevco Inc.
“It’s a growing area,” Lane said. “They primarily take red seedless grapes. A lot of these fast-food places seem to be offering fruit cups, and those normally have red grapes. So, foodservice has been gaining a bigger percentage of the market, even though it’s not a big percentage like other commodities.”
Scott Terry, import/export sales manager for Nogales, Ariz.-based Malena Produce Inc., said there’s no middle ground for grapes in foodservice, which can present a challenge.
“I think it has been a pretty decent part of the business, but foodservice for grapes is either very top end or the bottom end,” Terry said.
“There’s not really an in-between. The bottom end is used for snack packs for lunches and stuff, and the top end are used for restaurants and top-end purveyors. So, that’s a limited market in terms of total volume.”
Foodservice customers are under extra pressure from the recession, said Megan Schulz, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles-based Giumarra Cos.
“Foodservice has been affected by the economic situation,” Schulz said. “People aren’t going out to eat as often.”
Restaurants may be feeling the pain of the downturn for awhile, said Atomic Torosian, partner in Crown Jewels Marketing LLC, Fresno, Calif.
“I don’t think it (the recession) has ended,” he said. “From a foodservice side, as far as restaurant business, I think everybody is still struggling.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean grape sales will suffer, though, Torosian said.
“From the retail side, I think more people are buying more,” he said.
“So, obviously, if they’re eating out less, I think the retail side will see an uptick before foodservice. Even high-end restaurants are going out. I think we’re in for a long haul until more people go back to work.”
Bill Sykes, owner of the Nogales-based Sykes Co., said doing business with foodservice customers requires a higher level of exactitude.
“They want a grape that’s already down to four or five berries in a string,” he said. “Remember, you have the marketing agreement that starts April 10 and ends around the end of June. But we have to do bunch size, sugar, berry size.”
Some shippers acknowledge the extra effort may not be worth the time.
“Grapes are not much of a foodservice item, so it’s not a consideration,” said John Pandol, director of special projects for Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros. Inc.
Others say they see steady progress on the foodservice side.
“We have some foodservice accounts that we like to service, and I’d say that we see a modest growth in that business each year,” said Jerry Havel, sales and marketing director for Nogales-based Fresh Farms.
The recession hasn’t been much of a factor, at least in grape sales, Havel said.
“I think we felt it in squash and some of our other items,” he said. “Squash was hit in November, but we haven’t experienced it in grapes yet. I can’t say we won’t.”