Until the past three years, one or two new concepts would open each year, but there’s been very little growth in new concepts recently, Sirna said.
Chipotle and Panera Bread are two of the more successful chains that have managed to open new units.
Chipotle’s emphasis on fresh herbs, free-range meats and local sourcing probably has helped it grow, Sirna said.
Cleveland-based Produce Packaging Inc., a member of Norwalk, Iowa-based NationFresh tomato sales cooperative, services national restaurant accounts, including Applebee’s and The Cheesecake Factory, said Greg Fritz, president.
Foodservice buyers tend to be price-driven and likely to go elsewhere if a supplier can’t meet pricing demands, he said.
Produce Packaging sells to foodservice distributors, not directly to restaurants.
Ohio’s consumers also are increasingly interested in a variety of ethnic cuisines, including Indian, Mexican and Japanese foods, Clabaugh said.
The cities of Toledo and Dayton, in particular, have added more Mexican restaurants over the past decade or so.
That may be a good trend for the produce industry because Mexican-inspired cuisine lends itself to creative preparations for fresh produce, including fajitas and tacos, Clabaugh said.
Jim Sanfillipo, partner and sales manager, Sanfillipo Produce Co. Inc., Columbus, said the growth in Mexican restaurants in Columbus is a continuing major trend.
While it started with fast-food, Mexican-influenced restaurants such as Taco Bell and Chichi’s, there now are more authentic, independently owned Mexican restaurants in town, he said.
Sanfillipo Produce regularly handles good volumes of produce that is used in Mexican cuisine, including jalapenos, poblanos, habaneros, tomatillos and cilantro.
In addition to servicing Mexican restaurants, the company supplies other independently owned restaurants as well as country clubs and hospitals, Sanfillipo said.
In the past year, Sanfillipo Produce has added about six hospitals as customers.
Another trend Fritz has noticed is that foodservice distributors are buying more fresh produce for schools.
Produce Packaging provides a lot of items for school accounts, including fresh fruit cups, carrot and celery sticks, and seedless grapes.
Columbus, Ohio-based DNO Inc.’s niche in fresh-cut processing is in providing single-serve packages of fruits and vegetables for schools, said Alex DiNovo, vice president.
DNO packs the fruit under its own label, FreshHealth Kids.