Fresh produce suppliers to the foodservice industry generally report positive sales trends as the U.S. slowly emerges from the recession.
The National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Performance Index — a monthly composite index that tracks the health of the U.S. restaurant industry — hit a 10-month high in April, the latest period for which results were available.
The index stood at 101, up slightly from March. April represented the third time in the past four months that the RPI topped the 100 level, the association said, which “signifies expansion in the index of key industry indicators.”
Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based research and consulting firm, forecast 3.8% growth in the restaurant industry for the remainder of the year and anticipates even better growth in 2014.
“We’re seeing growth in the foodservice sector across the board in our commodities and our value-added products,” said Gina Nucci, director of healthy culinary innovation for Mann Packing Co. Inc., Salinas, Calif.
“There’s a little bit more disposable income,” she said. “People are still eating out.”
Summer only helps improve sales, as consumers head to the beach and take off on vacations, she said.
Just in time for the warm weather, Mann Packing has expanded acreage and developed a new logo for its Better Burger Leaf, which the company launched last summer.
“We’ve had a lot of success rolling that out,” Nucci said.
Foodservice business also continues to grow at Church Bros. LLC in Salinas, said Ernst Van Eeghen, director of marketing and product development.
“We’re breaking volume records pretty much every month,” he said.
Up to 75% of the company’s business is foodservice.
The Church Bros. product line includes salad blends, spinach, spring mix, iceberg, romaine, broccoli, cauliflower, cilantro, parsley and kale.
Van Eeghen expects foodservice sales growth to continue.
“I think the category will open up a little bit,” he said.
Business “continues to grow at a dramatic rate” for West Pak Avocado Inc., Murrieta, Calif., said Dan Acevedo, director of business development.
He attributes the growth to more restaurants adding avocados to their menus, particularly as add-ons or with burgers.
Lemon business also is “great and growing” at Limoneira Co., Santa Paula, Calif., said John Chamberlain, director of marketing.
Some of the growth is because the company began selling direct to foodservice operators two years ago.
“Our volume has been increasing because we’re able to get more accounts,” he said.
“Our business is substantially up,” said Verne Lusby, president of FreshPoint Southern California, Industry, Calif.
“Same store sales are growing, not dramatically, but we went through five years of straight decline,” he said.
The company’s main products include greens, tomatoes, potatoes and onions, but the firm also distributes a number of specialty items that are cropping up in more restaurants as a result of “cross-cultural and infused menus.”
“Even some of the casual dining restaurants that used to be pretty much meat and potatoes now have spring rolls or some kind of Asian (offering) on the menu,” Lusby said.
Much of the growth in foodservice business is from restaurants that are doing new things with traditional core items, like kale, brussels sprouts, green onions, beets and parsley, said Mike O’Leary, vice president of sales and marketing for the fresh-cut division of Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, Calif.