Restaurants offer fresh apples growth opportunity

01/09/2014 11:32:00 AM
Melissa Shipman

Apple trends in foodservice work a little differently than in the rest of the produce industry. Typically, restaurants are on the front end of trends and new ideas, but for apples those changes often come from retail.

“Apples are a little backwards from the idea of foodservice leading the trends,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc.

Instead of trendy varieties such as Honeycrisp, most schools, hotels and even restaurants offer only red delicious.

“Contrary to retail, foodservice is still heavily skewed to red delicious competing with export and domestic bags on the smaller-sized fruit,” said Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing for Rainier Fruit Co., Selah, Wash.

Wolter said the industry continues to reduce the amount of red delicious production acreage to focus on the new mainline reds, gala and fuji.

This shift means the small red delicious apples are becoming scarcer and pricing is steady.

“We firmly believe the foodservice sector would increase their sales opportunities if they offered what consumers are purchasing in the retail environment,” Wolter said.

To do this, the company has been encouraging its foodservice partners to change their spec sheets from red delicious to “red skinned” in order to take advantage of the promotional opportunities throughout the season.

Some restaurants are starting to offer fuji apple salads and even a few Honeycrisp dishes, but overall, there are simply not a lot of menu options for apples, as of yet.

Pepperl hopes this will change in the future.

“A few more white-tablecloth restaurants are starting to upgrade to new varieties for apple and pear recipes, but overall, cost is still the real driver, and apples are just underutilized in restaurants,” he said.

Don Armock, partner and president of Riveridge Produce Inc., Sparta, Mich., has started to see some upgrades as well.

“There’s starting to be a bit more acceptance of other varieties besides the traditional ones. Certainly gala and fuji apples have become a part of that business,” he said.

Armock has also seen an increase in the importance of locally grown apple varieties.

“You want to handle varieties that are regionally correct. It’s good for growers, and it speaks to consumers,” he said.

Still, he agrees apples tend to be overlooked in the restaurant side of the business.

“Whole apples are not utilized as much in restaurants,” he said, mentioning that fresh slices are more often seen as an accompaniment to a dessert or as a side dish.

Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, Lansing, said there is a need for recipes that feature apples at the forefront.

“We work with chefs in different parts of the country and go into retail stores to do demonstrations with apples in recipes, but not just salads or slicing them up,” Smith said.

One recipe featured apple meatball skewers, which Smith said is a great idea for an appetizer.

Where there is growth in the foodservice industry, it’s thanks to an increased interest in eating healthfully, said Howard Nager, vice president of marketing for Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash.

“Health trends are having an influence on the apple demand. Just take a look in the fast food sector, where apple slices are currently being offered to consumers,” he said.

Crunch Pak, Cashmere, Wash., supplies apple slices to restaurants, schools and other types of organizations.

Tony Freytag, senior vice president of sales and marketing, says this industry is a growing market.

“Consistently crisp, fresh and easy to use in salads, sandwich mixes and more, we expect this segment of our business to grow in the year ahead,” Freytag said.



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