(July 16) MONTEREY, Calif. — Grower-shippers need to be aware of the differences between foodservice broadliners and foodservice produce distributors if they plan to capture and keep their business.

That’s the preliminary word from this year’s FreshTrack 2003 study on the foodservice industry by Cornell University. Attendees of the Produce Marketing Association’s 2003 foodservice conference got a preview of the study July 14. The full version will be available by the end of September.

At a luncheon general session, Cornell researcher Debra Perosio teamed up with PMA president Bryan Silbermann to present an overview of the FreshTrack findings. Then in an afternoon workshop, Perosio and fellow researcher Sandra Cuellar led attendees through exercises aimed at teaching them how to apply the FreshTrack findings to their businesses.

The FreshTrack study, based on a year’s worth of survey returns from a variety of sizes of foodservice broadliners and produce distributors, turned up three key attributes sought in produce: top quality, products that are ready to cook or serve, and pre-ripened products. But researcher contention that broadliners and produce distributors are willing to pay extra to get those attributes brought laughter to the audience.

With a grin of his own, Silbermann admitted that survey respondents could have merely answered what they thought researchers wanted to hear on that question.

But a key thing that grower-shippers need to remember now and in the near future is that the two types of foodservice produce distributors source their products in vastly different ways, most notably in number of suppliers.

Currently, produce foodservice distributors get their products from an average of 110 suppliers, and they expect that to decrease to about 92 by 2005.

However, broadliners get their products from an average of only 25 suppliers currently, though they expect that to increase to about 26 by 2005, Perosio said.

Both types of operators said that large supplies, reliable notification of product availability and quality changes and the honoring of guarantees played important roles in how they chose their suppliers. Less important to them were personal relations, customized packaging and electronic communications, Perosio said.

All in all, the researchers said, as foodservice begins to use more produce, it will become more critical than ever for grower-shippers to know their customers’ needs.

“The best news I have for the produce industry is that more fresh produce is being used than ever,” Silbermann said.