Anyone with doubt about the effect of fresh produce on the foodservice category should look at the 2011 list of restaurant trends issued by the Washington, D.C.-based National Restaurant Association.
Of the top trends, three directly involve produce: No. 2 — locally grown produce, No. 3 — sustainability, and No. 14 — organics.
With the current push for healthful eating and fighting obesity, the timing couldn’t be better for promoting fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the foodservice industry.
The effect of the recession on foodservice produce sales varies from company to company, but most suppliers who saw a slump in business now say they’re seeing a rebound.
“For sure we saw a drop off in foodservice business during the recession,” said Doug Meyer, vice president of sales and marketing for West Pak Avocado, Temecula, Calif.
“In some instances we saw a shift to processed pulp and guacamole mixes, but we have seen a resurgence back to fresh avocados.”
“People are eating out, just not as often or as lavishly as they had in the past,” Meyer said.
Consumers were taking “one step down,” agreed Jay Iverson, partner and vice president of sales and marketing for GreenGate Fresh LLP, Salinas, Calif.
Considering today’s hectic lifestyles, “most people don’t have time to not take advantage of dining out,” he said.
“They’re just spending their money differently.”
Chains served by Freshway Foods, Sidney, Ohio, are adding more produce and produce-related products, said Dan Purdy, vice president of sales and marketing.
“People are starting to be health-conscious again,” he said, and that’s good for the industry as well as consumers.
Purdy also has observed a trend toward locally grown products, especially in the Midwest during the summer, and he said chefs are getting more creative with their salad offerings.
“They’re still using salad mixes in bags, but they’re starting to put some unique items in there,” he said.
Instead of just lettuce, red cabbage and carrots, chefs now are buying mixes that include endive, escarole, raddichio and romaine.
One chain, Carrollton, Texas-based T.G.I. Friday’s, even features butternut squash as a side dish, he said.
“It’s nice to see something a little different,” Purdy said.
Ease, convenience and price are foodservice trends that Vince Choate, director of marketing for Hollandia Produce LLC, Carpinteria, Calif., has noticed.