Most Los Angeles-area distributors say the recession affected their foodservice customers to some extent. But whether business is bouncing back depends on whom you ask.
Great West Produce Inc., Commerce, Calif., does a large portion of its business with foodservice purveyors, said president Sean Villa.
Villa noticed a dip in those sales during the recession, and he said that as many as 20% of foodservice chains may have filed for bankruptcy protection or cut back on locations.
If foodservice business is on the rebound, he said, “We’re not feeling that.”
Around 2003, about 60% of the company’s business was with the foodservice sector, he said. More recently, Great West has expanded its business with retailers and fresh-cut processors and in its repacking division.
Foodservice now is a much smaller portion, he said.
“There’s a strong general weakness for foodservice,” said Jeff Weisfeld, owner and president of Fruit Distributing Corp. of California, Commerce.
“The restaurant trade is still alive and well, but it’s just not as busy and active as it was.”
Consumers are interested in convenient alternatives to eating at home because many hold down two jobs or have youngsters who participate in more extracurricular activities than ever, he said.
Tomatoes are the company’s top-selling item at foodservice, followed by potatoes and onions.
Verne Lusby, president of FreshPoint Southern California in Industry, Calif., said same-store sales appear to have increased over a year ago.
“Restaurateurs have benefited from lack of produce inflation,” he said.
Inflation was a significant factor last year, he said, but it leveled off in 2012.
“It has been a spectacular year weatherwise,” he said, which has ensured ample supplies of fruits and vegetables.
More restaurants seem to be opening after a relatively dry period, Lusby added.
“Business looks more robust.”
Foodservice business has been down at Produce International, Los Angeles, but Steve Cantor, partner and director of sales and produce, expects sales to improve as California summer fruits come on.
April through September are his busiest months.
Coosemans L.A. Inc., Los Angeles, sells to some foodservice purveyors, said Alan Pollack, general manager.
Most purveyors buy directly from grower-shippers, he said, but they turn to the market to pick up “shorts,” which he said includes a little bit of just about everything the company offers.
Business at Interfresh Inc., Orange, Calif., is split between foodservice, retail and distributors, said president Chris Puentes.
Restaurant sales have been down during the past couple of years, as have retail sales, Puentes said. He has heard reports that business is picking up slightly, but he’s not sure that everyone has felt a giant bounce back.
Interfresh finished a berry promotion with Souplantation restaurants in June.
Consolidated West Distributing Inc., Commerce, Calif., sells mostly specialized items to foodservice, said Joel Young, an owner of the company.
Progressive Produce Corp., Commerce, is doing more foodservice business, said Jack Gyben, vice president and partner.
The company has worked for the past few years to create consistently performing frying potatoes for foodservice — a fresh program that now is available year-round.
“We really haven’t noticed a drop off,” Gyben said.
That might be because the company ships high-demand products like potatoes, onions, chilies and Hispanic fruits and vegetables, he said.