Wholesalers, distributors, retailers and restaurant operators all agree on one thing — there seems to be a mixed demand for fresh-cut produce in the Twin Cities market.

“Fresh-cut’s a little more difficult than it was, but we’re seeing it pick up now with summer almost here,” said Dean Balzum, produce director for Woodbury, Minn.-based Kowalski’s Markets.

The Wedge Co-op offers fresh-cut watermelon quarters, cantaloupe and honeydew halves and chopped, speared and cored pineapple in its produce section but saves the dicing for its deli.

Fresh-cut products successful in certain markets
Courtesy The Wedge Co-op

The Wedge Co-op, Minneapolis, sells mostly whole, bulk fruits and vegetables in its produce department, but also offers cut watermelon quarters, cantaloupe and honeydew halves and chopped, speared and cored pineapple. The store's deli has other fresh-cut items, says Dean Schladweiler, produce manager.

“Those are a huge seller here,” said Dean Schladweiler, produce manager for the Minneapolis-based store. “We have a lot of single and couple shoppers, not a lot of families, so we always have things like cauliflower cut so you don’t have to buy the whole head.”

The store processes all its produce in-house.

Co-op Partners Warehouse has seen an increase in the request for fresh cut produce, but not necessarily from consumers.

“A lot of delis use precuts and ready-made salads,” said Tom Rodmyre, warehouse manager for the distribution arm of The Wedge. “Delis are looking for something more labor-cost effective.”

Rodmyre said he furnishes produce to another facility, which cuts and processes the raw materials.

Albert’s Organics reports a strong demand for fresh-cut as it expands its program out of its Mounds View distribution center.

“Demand is growing steadily as melons, grapes and berries have come into season and are added to our availability,” said Simcha Weinstein, director of marketing for the Bridgeport, N.J.-based company. “Overall demand is up with a significant increase in interest from the foodservice sector.”

Brighton, Minn.-based H. Brooks & Co. is using customized programs to leverage its fresh-cut and value-added business, said Phillip Brooks, chief executive officer and owner.

“We’ve really been helping different customers with customized programs for fresh-cut and value-added items, and that’s been a growing area for us,” Brooks said. “We’re looking for that to continue to grow.”

Quartered and halved watermelon has been an area of growth, Brooks said, along with the small cups to larger, 5-pound units of cut melons and pineapple. The company also offers vegetable party trays.

While fresh-cut produce saves some on labor costs, it does add to the cost of goods.

“I see different restaurants go different ways with that,” Brooks said. “Some try to control food costs, some with overall costs. It just depends on where they’re at.”

Brooks said value-added produce can really help when a restaurant has a special event planned, and may need to put out more food than usual.

“If they’ve been a little slow and are planning for a big party, fresh-cut may be the way to go,” Brooks said.