“We encourage our chefs to think outside of the box,” Lopes said. “Particularly in the quick-serve restaurant sector, we’re seeing even more focus on berry utilization. Not only is it a way to have healthier offerings but also create significant impression with brightness, freshness, appeal, color and flavor.
“Berries are the key centerpiece to bringing all of this to fruition. Nothing else can do it like berries, and additionally it creates a big draw with a halo effect on other menu items.”
Healthful menu addition
Louis Ivanovich, a partner in West Lake Fresh, said he also sees continued interest from foodservice in strawberries and the berry category in general. He credited the fruit’s healthful image for much of the attention.
“In foodservice, and especially the fast-food area, they’re trying to improve their menus and become more healthful and add some excitement to their menu mix,” he said.
Within foodservice, customer requirements may differ, Ivanovich said. That’s why West Lake Fresh, Watsonville, has a quality control team that travels the strawberry production regions to match berry characteristics with customers.
A firm that prepares airline meals, for example, may want a small, uniform strawberry that clears the slots in the meal cart without getting squished, he said.
However, a white table cloth restaurant may be looking for size and the overall showiness of the fruit.
Cindy Jewell, marketing director for California Giant Berry Farms LLC, said the Watsonville-based grower-shipper continues to work with foodservice customers and send them samples as they try out new offerings.
“They definitely reach out to shippers and spend a lot of time on R&D to understand the production system and the shelf life,” she said.
But integrating strawberries into menus, particularly fast-food restaurants, can be a challenge, she said.
Some fast-food chains have moved away from food preparation at individual restaurants, instead using food items that are ready to cook or serve.
Strawberries are typically sliced in a food item, and once you cut them, the freshness clock starts ticking rapidly, Jewell said.
But Christian said that by understanding and implementing proper cold-chain management and inventory rotation, strawberries can be successfully incorporated into most foodservice menu items.