McElroy estimated there are about 10,000 restaurants in Minnesota.
Produce vendors say they have noticed a dip in foodservice-related receipts during the recession.
“I only know what we’re doing, but I think, overall, foodservice declined some,” said Phillip Brooks, chief executive officer of New Brighton, Minn.-based H. Brooks & Co.
“I don’t think there’s been a tremendous change from a year ago.”
The economy’s effects on foodservice probably vary, said Adam Gamble, general manager of North Country Produce, a subsidiary of Russ Davis Wholesale of Inver Grove Heights, Minn.
“It has affected people at different levels,” Gamble said. “Your restaurants and hotels, there’s obviously been some pressure there. Some chains have suffered or gone away.”
Some of the survivors likely have cut back on purchases, he said.
“There’s some obvious effects on them,” he said. “The trickle-down effect from that, most people who have survived have tried to tighten their belts. Their suppliers and distributors are getting beat up. Growers, shippers, packers, processors are feeling the pressure of ‘aggressive buying,’ as I call it. I’ve seen it at the retail level for your traditional level. Everybody’s beating everybody up trying to get what they can out there.”
Others see potential growth in the foodservice sector.
“We’re dedicating all sorts of new people to that all the time because it’s growing really, really fast from all directions, from schools to caterers to major national operations that we’re partnering with,” said Kevin Hannigan, executive director of operations with J&J Distributing Inc., St. Paul.
Clark Jacobsen, produce salesman for The Restaurant Depot in St. Paul, which distributes mostly to local “mom-and-pop” restaurants, said things seemed to be looking up so far in 2011.
“It’s been pretty good for us, and produce has been pretty good for us.”
The recession did have some effect, though, he said.
“Slow business, of course, but it seems everybody is coming back pretty good,” he said. “I ask everybody how their business is going, and they say they’re doing OK.”