Distributors also supply higher demand for specialty produce.
Escalating labor costs are prompting more retailers and foodservice operators to purchase fresh-cut produce, said Ross Foca, president of Savage, Md.-based East Coast Fresh.
Legislation increasing the minimum wage is making food operators seek improved efficiencies as they rethink the labor part of their operations, he said.
“There’s definitely a movement toward fresh-cut,” Foca said. “We are seeing more positive movement headed that way. It’s growing in restaurants, which are seeing the value of fresh-cut in this very competitive foodservice field.”
East Coast has increased the number of fresh-cut stock-keeping units.
The company carries more than 2,000 SKUs for foodservice and markets several hundred items for retail customers, he said.
East Coast is experiencing interest in fresh-cut throughout its distribution territory, which includes trucking fresh produce and fresh-cut offerings to retail and foodservice customers throughout the eastern half of the U.S. east of the Mississippi River, Foca said.
Fresh-cut remains a niche for Jessup, Md.-based G. Cefalu & Bro. Inc. and Capital Seaboard, said Sal Cefalu, owner and director of CGC Holdings, the companies’ parent company.
To serve its customers wanting fresh-cut items, Cefalu processes and supplies items upon request, he said.
“Our customers want the product,” Cefalu said. “It’s doing well and we are growing that area in a very controlled manner. Because we aren’t a larger operator, we can specialize in it a little more and if a customer requests something cut a certain way, we can easily customize it.”
Distributors must remain up to date when seeking specialty items their customers request, said T.J. Rahll, operations manager of Edward G. Rahll & Sons Inc., in Jessup.
“Like everything else, demand in this area has definitely grown,” he said. “It gets to the point to where you’re constantly learning. People are bringing in new items you’ve never heard of before. It makes you have to search online how the items are used and where they’re sourced. It’s interesting the things people come up with. There’s a big market for specialty products.”
Specialty sales keep increasing for East Coast as well.
“The segment is ever-growing,” Foca said. “It’s been the trend ever since there have been celebrity chefs on TV driving the chefs in the restaurants and retailers to provide the ingredients people coming into their stores are wanting.”
The economy hasn’t really harmed specialties demand, he said.
The people that are purchasing specialties are doing well, Foca said.
Specialties also remain a small business for Cefalu and Capital Seaboard, Cefalu said.
“Demand is consistent,” he said. “As we grow our customer base and it goes into different directions, we are finding specialties as something our customers may need. Demand ebbs and flows based on our customer base. There is growth in the area. It’s not dramatic but we are seeing demand.”