Foodservice demand starts to pick up steam - The Packer

Foodservice demand starts to pick up steam

04/16/2014 11:49:00 AM
Jim Offner

A higher price point sometimes has held asparagus back in the restaurant sector, but the vegetable is popping up in more menus at new venues, marketers say.

“For a massive restaurant and supply chain and pricing, you might not see it at the lower-end restaurants, but you see it at higher-end restaurants all the time,” said Peter Warren, marketing and sales director at Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Ayco Farms Inc.

Recent “downward pressure” on pricing may open a few more restaurant doors to asparagus, however, Warren said.

“We’re having more volumes at better pricing than ever before, so that does play well for more in foodservice,” he said.

Overall, though, the product cost does remain a daunting hurdle in foodservice, said John Bakker, executive director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board in DeWitt.

“The biggest is that when most foodservice folks look at asparagus and figure out what it costs to put a serving of asparagus on a plate vs. corn, peas or beans, they become a little less excited about doing that,” he said.

However, Michigan asparagus can be found in restaurants, he said.

Todd Greiner, CEO of Hart, Mich.-based grower-shipper, said his company is seeing an increase in foodservice sales.

“Our foodservice seems to be growing every year,” he said, noting that his company offers a shorter spear called the Michigan Tender Tip — a 7-inch spear that is “some of the nicer asparagus that comes off the lines.”

James Paul, director of sales and marketing for Stockton, Calif.-based Greg Paul Produce Sales Inc., gauged his company’s foodservice sales in the middling range.

“It’s fair; they’re steady, consistent,” he said.

It meets expectations, Paul said.

“We’ve seen some good support from foodservice purveyors and seen some no-support,” he said. “It’s specific to the programs you have and foodservice purveyors want to make sure they have some locally grown product.”

Asparagus is making its way into some restaurant formats for the first time, said Chloe Varennes, marketing manager with Los Angeles-based Gourmet Trading Co.

“Asparagus is no longer an item that is only found at high end restaurants. It has been adopted by casual dining and fast-food restaurants within recent years,” she said.

Some restaurants see it as a way to “either up-sell their customers on a more high end vegetable or give the impression that they are more high end,” she said.

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