“We’ll accommodate 18 chefs, again from the top 200 chains,” DeGroat said. “(We’ll be) teaching them about strawberries, getting them to think about strawberries in new ways and expand their thinking beyond the typical desserts and smoothies.”
The commission is also working on overcoming logistical hurdles in the fast-food business, DeGroat added.
“We’re looking at ways to move fresh strawberries through the complexities of those channels,” she said. “Those chains need a few extra days to move fresh strawberries through their systems, so we’re working on solutions for that.”
Berry marketers find foodservice to be a ready partner, said Keith Mixon, president of Sunnyridge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, Fla.
“Blueberries have enjoyed a lot of success recently in foodservice channel,” Mixon said. “We did go after some foodservice groups.”
Crispers LLC, a restaurant chain owned by retailer Publix Super Markets, ran a blueberry promotion last summer, Mixon said.
“It was quite successful,” he said. “They feature a lot of salads and lunch-type items on their menu, and we’re looking forward to doing it again.”
Other restaurants are doing blueberry promotions, as well, Mixon said.
“But Crispers was unique because it featured fresh berries,” he said.
MBG Marketing, a Grand Junction, Mich.-based berry organization, has noticed gains in the foodservice sector, said Frank Bragg, chief executive officer.
The group is promoting both fresh and frozen berries in foodservice, Bragg said.
“We’ve also formed a new partnership on frozen side, so we expect to continue to push our foodservice business and grow that business over time, particularly in fresh,” he said. “That’s what the consumer is looking for — more fresh options.”
The menu options for fresh are many and varied, Bragg noted.
“I think salad is where we see the great opportunity is today,” he said. “It’s an interesting concept. Obviously, blueberries will provide color and taste and excitement to a salad dish. But as chefs work on new ideas, you’re going to see more blueberries on main-plate offerings as well. You’ll also find sauces and salsas (featuring berries).”
Mark Villata, executive director with the Folsom, Calif.-based North American Blueberry Council, said the foodservice business has picked up on the fresh side.
“It’s always been a good market for frozen, but we’re also seeing a lot of new applications with fresh,” he said. “Country Kitchen ran some promotions last year. We had a blueberry lemonade and blueberries with pancakes. We did some work with Crispers … We had blueberry salad, blueberry pomegranate iced tea that went very well.”