Chefs drive demand for specialty produce

07/18/2014 10:30:00 AM
Melissa Shipman

Specialty trends tend to start in the fine dining arena.

“A lot of gourmet items are all very prominent now when 20 years ago, they were only used by chefs,” said Wes Hamilton, executive chef for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Teton Village, Wyo.

“You can find Belgian endive at the grocery store, and before no one would have known what to do that it. So we’re seeing all those things that we didn’t used to find years ago,” Hamilton said.

He said it’s a neat experience for a chef to see an item transition from being obscure to being mainstream.

“It’s kind of exciting to see people learn all the variation that’s out there,” he said.

Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Frieda’s Inc., has seen this pattern emerge, according to Karen Caplan, president and chief executive officer.

“Chefs have always been on the cutting edge of trends. Usually, when we have a new item, we get it out to some chefs, and, once customers have a great experience with that item at those restaurants, then all of a sudden retailers get demand for the item and put them in stores,” Caplan said.

Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development, Southern Specialties, Pompano Beach, Fla., agreed items once considered specialty may not still fall into that category, often times as a result of foodservice influence.

“Some of these items once had very low volumes, but through years of being available, first at fine dining establishments, and then to other restaurants and then specialty markets, they have found their way into the mass feeding arena,” he said.

Mike Contreras, director of marketing for Houston-based Mex-Flores Produce, said foodservice business is booming.

Particularly, Contreras has seen tomatillos, used by Chipotle and other popular restaurants that are either directly or indirectly served by Mex-Flores, show gains for dishes like fresh tomatillo salsa.

“We’ve really seen a big increase,” he said.



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