The ubiquity of garlic and herbs on restaurant menus has helped shield them from the downturn in foodservice sales.
“Luckily, garlic is an important ingredient all around the world,” said Patsy Ross, vice president of marketing for Gilroy, Calif.-based garlic grower-shipper Christopher Ranch.
Restaurants recognize the need for an array of those ingredients, said Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc., which markets garlic and herbs under the Melissa’s label.
“Garlic and herbs are staple ingredients in most foodservice applications, especially high-end,” Schueller said.
Both have cross-cultural appeal and have a variety of uses, Schueller said.
“Garlic can be served a number of ways, as an ingredient, used like butter or roasted straight up,” he said.
Herbs make popular garnishes for entrees, desserts and drinks, Schueller said.
“Chefs use them as a differentiation point on their menu,” he said.
Fresh herbs are gaining a large following in the restaurant sector, Schueller said.
“I truly believe America is learning about fresh herbs,” he said. “Twenty years ago, they were accustomed to buying herbs dry.”
Offering fresh ingredients is central to brisk sales in foodservice, shippers said.
“Restaurants announce on their menus that they use fresh herbs and fresh produce in their dishes, and it makes people realize they’re getting a better meal for their value than just using dry ingredients from the shelf that could have been there for months,” said Camilo Penalosa, vice president of business development and partner with Miami-based Infinite Herbs and Specialties LLC.
That kind of information leads to more sales in and out of restaurants, Penalosa said.
“They see the difference and they want to buy more at retail,” he said.
Fresh mint and other herbs are in a growth mode, said Vern Meyer, executive administrator for Perrysburg, Ohio-based HerbThyme Farms Inc.
“When a restaurant points out their mojitos are made with fresh mint, that says something,” Meyer said. “When there’s a garnish with fresh mint and there’s a sprig of fresh basil on a pasta dish, it says to the consumer you’re getting something special, a little better.
Cost shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, he said, "When you break it down cost per serving, it’s very attractive."
“One of the best Italian restaurants in the Chicago area takes olive oil and fresh basil on a salad plate. It’s probably 10 cents or a nickel’s worth of basil. It sets the stage for you. This is worth it. You look at the pricing, and you’re comfortable with it.”
Restaurants have continued to be strong customers, even through the economic downturn, said Ian Zimmerman, operations manager for Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., South Hackensack, N.J.
“Some sectors are down, but we are pretty strong with a few big foodservice purveyors in the Northeast, and our business does not seem to have dropped off,” said Zimmerman, whose company supplies garlic to the foodservice sector.