CHICAGO — Rising wage rates and greater emphasis on fruits and vegetables in school meals and in retail deli departments should provide fresh-cut produce suppliers growth opportunities.
Tom KarstTony DiNovo (left), president of DNO Inc., Columbus, Ohio, visits with Bob Swartwout, proprietor of VNS Sales, Denton, Texas, after a June 12 United Fresh workshop on fresh-cut business opportunities with schools and alternative retail formats.That’s the view of Bob Swartwout, proprietor of VNS Sales, Denton, Texas, and vice chairman of the United Fresh-Cut Processor Board. Swartwout and school foodservice officials spoke at a June 12 United Fresh workshop looking at expanding fresh-cut business opportunities with schools and alternative retail formats.
Swartwout said fresh-cut customers growing in importance include schools, convenience stores, retail delis, vending and the booming trend of food trucks.
“Food trucks have to buy fresh-cut; they don’t have the storage space,” he said.
At the retail level, Swartwout said the deli department is a new star customer for some fresh-cut processors. The deli can take foodservice packs like salads and also demand fresh-cut vegetable ingredients to pair with department staples for easy-to-prepare items. For example, cut peppers and onions are popular for fajitas and kabobs. Grab-and-go salads are increasingly used as impulse buys in every department. Fresh-cut produce also is used in combination with pasta and protein, and cut celery, carrots, onions are popular in crab and seafood salads. Even bakery departments are using items like diced onions for onion rolls and shredded carrots for carrot cake.
Minimum wage increases in certain states — he said Seattle recently approved an hourly wage rate of $15 per hour to be phased in over several years — is starting to push more customers to fresh-cut produce, Swartwout said.
“What you are going to see is another renaissance for fresh-cut produce for some the operations that may not be taking advantage of it now,” Swartwout said.
The workshop also included school foodservice officials who have had big success with fresh-cut produce.
Robert Lewis, director of foodservice, El Monte City School District, El Monte City, Calif., said his school district began creating healthier options about six years ago. The school district’s foodservice officials give taste tests to involve students in picking recipes. Menu planners also create color-themed lunches, such as yellow and purple produce for L.A. Lakers Day.
Federal meal regulations kicking in July 1 will mandate one cup of fruit for breakfast, three-quarters of a cup of vegetables and one-half cup of fruit for lunch, and three-quarters of a cup of vegetables or fruit for supper. The school district serves food three times a day, plus a midmorning fresh fruit and vegetable snack program.