Berries finding their way into foodservice

06/03/2008 12:00:00 AM
Jim Offner

(June 3) From the quickservice segment to white-tablecloth establishments, the foodservice business is booming for berries.

Growers and shippers are only too happy to fill any needs those restaurants have, marketing agents said.

Perhaps the most remarkable growth area for berries in the restaurant sector is fast food, said Bryan Ostlund, executive director of the Oregon Blueberry Commission, Salem.

“It’s probably true with most everything, not just fast food, but it is noticeable,” he said. “It’s so much recognition of blueberry as a very unique fruit item. What replaced the old USDA Pyramid, there aren’t a lot of blue things to be consumed. All the antioxidant components coming together. Blueberries have caught everybody’s interest.”

Berries are finding their way into all manner of offerings on restaurant menus, both quick-serve and other types, Ostlund said.

“Now, you’ll find blueberries in fruit juices, formulations, candy bars, even alcoholic beverages,” he said. “It’s in everything. You’ve got blueberry muffins, granola bars, everything. Really, as the manufacturers tried new formulations, we couldn’t ramp up fast enough. It’s an interesting moment in time for the blueberry industry.”

Chefs are always looking for new ways to use berries in their own formulations, marketing agents note.

As an example, New Jersey chefs met with berry growers in early April, said Bob Von Rohr, marketing and customer relations manager for Glassboro, N.J.-based Sunny Valley International Inc.

“It’s a way to connect chefs with sustainable producers,” Von Rohr said. “They basically have a meeting every year, sponsored by the New Jersey Organic Farming Association, and they have panel discussions, a complimentary meal, and each business has the opportunity to introduce themselves.

“It’s a nice thing to help educate area chefs as to what’s happening in New Jersey. It’s certainly an opportunity for producers and buyers to meet one-on-one.”

The Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission also works closely with chefs, said Mary DeGroat, commission spokeswoman.

“Last year, our significant event was to invite chefs from the top 200 chains to the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, Calif., for a two-day exclusive strawberry symposium, where they learned all about the industry,” DeGroat said. “They met with our growers and processors and brainstormed new ideas, recipes. Thirty-three different recipes for strawberries came out of that.”

The commission plans to have the event again this year, June 1-3.


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