Better availability helps chefs order more organics

11/02/2012 11:04:00 AM
Melissa Shipman

Organic produce doesn’t have a huge role in foodservice, but the presence is there and growing, according to some shippers.

Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif., has noticed that increase.

“We’re starting to see increasing demand from foodservice, although it’s kind of commodity specific and not really across the whole board of organics,” president Tom Deardorff said.

Deardorff said the higher demand stems from vendors being able to find a product they like and are able to trust it will be available year-round.

“We’re reaching that point in the industry, and we’re gaining more traction in foodservice because of that,” he said.

Restaurants are more often requesting organic romaine lettuce, cilantro, tomatoes and bell peppers, Deardorff said.

Other companies have noticed the increase as well, including Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla.

“We’re seeing more organic in foodservice, sometimes even full-organic restaurants, and even more organic offerings in general with some of the national chains,” said Jim Roberts, vice president of sales.

“Foodservice had taken a big hit a few years ago, but our foodservice growth is now outpacing company growth,” Roberts said.

Showcasing specialty items

For Sunny Valley Organics Inc., Nogales, Ariz., the growth of its restaurant business has come from learning how to best showcase specialty items that chefs like to use.

“For a while, eating habits had steered away from heirloom tomatoes, but now it’s restaurant culture and even trendy to go back to basics and try to find items that really make a recipe stand out. Heirlooms were one of those key items chefs took it upon themselves to promote,” said Hector Crisantes, West Coast sales manager.

Competitive pricing

Still, it’s difficult to encourage restaurants to use organic produce because the foodservice industry is very price sensitive.

“Chefs like to cook with things that are good, but they need a competitive price. They want to keep it high, but not too high,” Crisantes said.

However, quality is an ultimate deciding factor, he said.

“A chef will look for something that eats really well, and they might be a little more flexible with price if it has that standout flavor and appeal of the item,” he said.

“Organics have a place in foodservice, but you have to pick and choose where to go. For us, it’s finding a specialty place where we can give the chef an item to showcase,” he said.


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