Citrus marketers say their product can range, depending on the item, from ubiquitous to almost nonexistent in the foodservice category.
But, they say, they also are seeing the category make progress in the sector, particularly in light of the increased emphasis on healthy snack options in schools.
“Basically, the state of Florida is trying to get more fruits and vegetables in the schools,” said Al Finch, vice president of sales and marketing for Lake Hamilton-based Florida Classic Growers Inc. “There’s been a big push to incorporate citrus in that.”
“I know several school districts are working on that in Florida. Schools are addressing the obesity issues and many school districts are wanting healthier choices on their menus and (to) get away from not-so-healthy choices on menus.”
It bodes well for the future, said David Krause, president of Paramount Citrus Association Inc., Delano, Calif.
“We love the trends,” he said.
“The fruit and vegetable industry should be enthused by the health movement, whether it’s school salad bar programs or administrative measures to increase funding for school programs. Whatever it might be, it’s just a change in consumption and dietary patterns. That’s all good and exciting.”
Paramount is active in building its foodservice clientele, Krause said.
“For us, Paramount is very excited about our online program out of Mexico for our foodservice customers and clients,” he said.
“We have a vertically integrated grower-packer-shipper heavily into the lime business, and that’s been well received by the foodservice channel.”
Grower Andrew Brown, a director with Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, said some citrus items are common in restaurants, but he added there’s always room for improvement.
“Over the years, I know there’s been an increase of lemons in the foodservice business,” he said.
Lemons are a key factor in the foodservice sector for citrus suppliers, agreed Richard Kinney, president of Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Packers Inc.
“They’re really a foodservice item,” he said of lemons.
It’s a healthy market for Santa Paula, Calif.-based Limoneira Co., according to Alex Teague, the company’s senior vice president.
“The health and differential of the lemons really helps in foodservice,” Teague said.
“The foodservice industry is taking a large interest in our specialty lemons, as well as seeing lemon slices being put back into the water glasses. Not only does it position the restaurant in a higher category with the consumer, but it helps the dining experience by enhancing all flavors of the meal and at relatively low costs.”
Citrus has some natural drawbacks that inhibit its success in foodservice, said David Mixon, senior vice president of Seald Sweet International Inc., Vero Beach, Fla.
“It’s that lack of convenience,” he said.
“You’d think it would be the No. 1 item, but it’s all processed in the schools. Nine times out of 10, it’s an apple or banana or grape. People don’t want to see peelings all over the schoolyard. Even with the increase in school lunch programs and the ability of the fruit and vegetable industry to be involved, we’re seeing the needle move slightly but not the way we’d like to see.
“But overall, you’re talking about a value-added cost that will not allow that to take place for citrus.”
Nevertheless, work goes on to make inroads in foodservice, said Randy Jacobsen, sales manager with Cecelia Packing Corp., Orange Cove, Calif.
“We sell a fair amount of oranges to foodservice — for garnishes, for juices, for schools, for prisons,” he said.
“It’s a part of the program and it cycles in and out.”
Cost is a key factor with foodservice, Jacobsen said.
“A lot of foodservice is based on cost per serving,” he said.
“A lot of times they take small oranges, which are the least expensive. There is a cycle, let’s put it that way.”