Florida foodservice business for fresh produce a mixed bag - The Packer

Florida foodservice business for fresh produce a mixed bag

01/19/2012 05:26:00 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

TAMPA, Fla. — The economy is affecting Florida distributors in different ways. In a state heavily dependent on tourism, some wholesalers report slow or weak foodservice sales, while others, particularly in south Florida, report strong business.

While weekday restaurant business often remains slower than normal, weekends sizzle, especially at the concerts and comedy shows at places such as the Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood  casino, said Bruce Fishbein, partner in The Produce Connection Inc., Miami.

“It’s insane,” he said. “Friday and Saturday nights, it’s standing room only. It’s interesting that the whole deal on South Beach, at Hard Rock and over on Las Olas Boulevard (in Fort Lauderdale), all the areas over the weekend, you wouldn’t know there is any kind of recession going on. You would think everyone is out having a good time.”

Despite a challenging economy, U.S. Foodservice Inc., Rosemont, Ill., is experiencing increased sales.

Robert Ondrus, director of category management for produce, said data from the Chicago-based NPD Group market research firm shows the restaurant sector experiencing strong movement.

“As a whole, the restaurant industry is picking up year to year, which is a good sign,” Ondrus said. “The restaurant part of the business is doing better. With the holidays, people are going out to restaurants more. They may trade down a little and may go down one step, but they will still go out.”

Trying to minimize costs, Ondrus said restaurants are also using more cost-effective foods, such as higher-yielding grades of produce.

“Produce plays a good role in that,” he said. “The less expensive product may not be better. You have to look at yield.”

Favorable weather also helps boost foodservice sales to the many restaurants, country clubs and institutions served by Jack T. Scalisi Wholesale Produce Distributors, West Palm Beach, said Jack Scalisi, president.

He said an 80-degree day in mid-December helps encourage more visitors to travel to Florida to vacation and play golf, which means more foodservice sales.

“The very best in the restaurant business, such as the country clubs — they seem to be recovering well,” Scalisi said. “People are becoming more active and are going out to dinner more. We also had a better summer this year than we’ve had for the last several years.”

Scalisi said the outlook for the tourist season, which begins in early November and runs through April, remains strong.

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