Fresh produce foodservice slump still evident in Northwest - The Packer

Fresh produce foodservice slump still evident in Northwest

07/07/2011 09:37:00 AM
Dan Gailbraith

PORTLAND, Ore. — Foodservice demand has stabilized in the Pacific Northwest, though produce operators say parts of the sector are still under stress.

Spending on food away from home in Seattle was estimated at $2,983 in 2007-08, the most recent year statistics are available from the commerce department. That level of spending compared favorably to the U.S. average of $2,683.

That still fell short of food purchases to be consumed at home, however.

Food purchased for at home use accounted for $4,313 in 2007-08, compared with $3,605 for the national average.

Steve Davis, produce buyer with Aloha Produce, said the firm has 95% of its sales to foodservice accounts, primarily restaurants but also care centers and school districts.

“I think the biggest thing for restaurants is for them to hold down their costs,” he said. “They are trying to stay afloat.”

Ernie Spada Jr., owner of Duck Delivery and United Salad Co., said foodservice demand is stable but off from two or three years ago.

“It is stable based on where it is today,” he said.

The price of fuel may have a continuing major effect on foodservice demand, as high gas prices have taken away spending dollars from families.

Foodservice sales account for more than 30% of the business for Charlie’s Produce, Seattle, said John Janker, director of category management.

“There is the same trend with foodservice as with retail,” Janker said.

“There is a real push toward the miles to market,” he said. Finding items that can be associated with a specific local farm is a plus, said Brian Namatame, director of procurement for Charlie’s Produce.

Institutions such as hospitals and universities are increasingly inquiring about local production, said Diane Dempster, organic commodity manager for Charlie’s Produce.

Although foodservice sales have stabilized, they are still below the levels of several years ago, said Ron Escene, manager of Botsford & Goodfellow, Federal Way, Wash.

“Our restaurant business is down 60%, and our retail business is up 60%,” he said. “People value the dollar, and they would rather go to the store and spend $50 rather than go to a restaurant and spend $50.”

High-end restaurants are doing fine, but Escene said the mid-tier restaurants are being hurt by the slump.



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