Buying, sales and/or marketing management groups have a bird’s-eye view as they watch foodservice trends and identify members’ products that fit operators’ needs.

The focus on the economy, which has brought fewer guests into restaurants, has caused Pro*Act LLC, Monterey, Calif., to work with its suppliers to be more innovative with product offerings and services to help trim costs from the supply chain, said Steve Grinstead, president and chief executive officer.

Management groups help members stay current with foodservice trends
                                                                Jody Shee
Andrew Siegel, president of Fresh Connect, Chicago, developed corn coin slices for Tracy, Calif.-based Prima Bella Produce Inc.’s corn. Siegel says the cuts are popular in schools.

Pro*Act’s 47 member distributors used to be viewed merely in a sales role, but now operators approach them and ask for their help to cut costs. There’s more two-way discussion, Grinstead said.

For example, Pro*Act recently developed an asparagus pack that trimmed one-third from the stalk end to offer more of what the restaurant uses. The result was a smaller box leading to more boxes per pallet and more product on the truck, resulting in lower transportation costs.

The fact that Pro*Act is in charge of its supply chain, from growing standards through packing and distribution to the back door of the restaurant, allows for control of food safety and traceability, Grinstead said.

Produce Alliance LLC, Nashville, Tenn., serves large national foodservice operators that come to the produce management services company for its buying power, national sales force and IT help, such as Web building/ordering services and data collection, said managing director Chuck Wilkinson.

Produce Alliance works with more than 75 distributors nationally to help service such operators as Avendra LLC, Rockville, Md., and Erickson Retirement Communities, Catonsville, Md.

Wilkinson said many operators are reducing staff at restaurant and corporate levels to cut costs. One of its restaurant accounts recently laid off its payables and receivables staff.

“Many of our IT services fit their needs,” he said. “We created tools for them that automated many of their pricing functions.”

In its role as the marketing and sales representative for six grower-shippers, Fresh Connect, Chicago, evaluates foodservice trends and markets to those trends, helping develop new products as needed, said president Andrew Siegel.

As restaurants aim to reduce costs, they are lowering their protein costs by including two, rather than one, vegetables on the plate, he said.

Armed with the knowledge that corn is the favorite vegetable of consumers under age 30, but yet most corn sold in foodservice is frozen, Siegel saw an opportunity for Tracy, Calif.-based Prima Bella Produce Inc.’s GloriAnn corn.

He helped develop corn coins (cobs cut into about 1-inch slices, allowing them be eaten easier) and corncobs with part of the stem left on for a handle — both kid-friendly products. The new corn cuts have become popular in schools, and the corn with a handle is sold at Disneyland and Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s theme park. Siegel is helping to sell it into festivals as an easy-to-eat vegetable.

Each of Fresh Connect’s 15 sales representatives has been trained in the culinary field, and they know to speak to operators in foodservice language.

“What does $18 per case mean to them?” he asks. “Rather, 38 cents per portion means something,” he said.

Tim York, president and chief executive officer of Markon Cooperative Inc., a Salinas, Calif.-based produce procurement company for many of North America’s top independent foodservice distributors, also has identified the value of speaking to foodservice operators in terms of cost per serving and number of servings per package.

It’s a language he’s working on with the distributor sales representatives.

“(Distributor sales representatives) typically have 15,000 items they are selling,” York said. “We have to keep reminding them that fresh produce can be a high-margin, low-cost item. That is a real help to operators these days.”

This article was featured in The Packer's annual Foodservice section, published June 29. For more stories about the foodservice sector, visit