Foodservice is taking a bigger slice of the pie normally reserved for retail when it comes to marketing Chilean blueberries, importers and industry officials say.
The future is bright for U.S. foodservice sales of Chilean blueberries, said Tom Tjerandsen, managing director for North America for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, Sonoma, Calif.
“A number of vertical segments in foodservice are experiencing explosive growth in blueberry usage,” Tjerandsen said.
And to spur even more growth, the association recently completed a research project examining potential barriers to foodservice blueberry sales growth, Tjerandsen said.
“Some issues we can’t address — price, lack of cold storage, infrequent distributor shipments, etc. — but many we can, so we’re concentrating on producing tools and fielding programs designed to overcome these concerns,” he said.
Brian Bocock, vice president of product management in the Grand Junction, Mich., office of Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC, said foodservice is becoming a bigger part of Naturipe’s Chilean blueberry business.
“We’re working on that pretty hard,” he said. “I don’t know much more, but we’re selling more to foodservice.”
Bocock cited McDonald’s inclusion of fresh blueberries on its menus this past summer as an example of the commodity’s recent success at foodservice.
There will be more of that this winter, during the Chilean season, but not on the scale of the McDonald’s summer promotion, Bocock said.
As little as 1% of the total Chilean blueberry sales at Wish Farms, Plant City, Fla., goes to foodservice, said Teddy Koukoulis, director of blueberry operations.
“If we do it, it’s a pallet here, half a pallet there,” he said. “Our customers are more retail.”
Koukoulis understands there is demand for foodservice blueberries, and not just in restaurants. Cruise ships are among the other channels where blueberries are playing a bigger role.
But he said it can be hard nut to crack.
“You may make six to 10 deliveries a day, and it’s just one case,” he said. “I don’t pretend to know that much about it, but logistically, it seems like it would be hard to do.”
Foodservice sales of Chilean blueberries are more of a future tense proposition for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, said Nolan Quinn, berry category director.
“We expect to do more — it seems there’s more demand there — but we don’t do much now,” he said. “For us, it’s mostly mainstream retailers.”
Oppenheimer’s conventional retailer customers have done a good job of matching promotions with volume peaks on Chilean blueberries, Quinn said.
Janice Honigberg, president of Chicago-based Sun Belle Inc., also expects more Chilean blueberries in restaurants and other foodservice channels in 2013.
“Generally, there is more interest in blueberries in the foodservice sector,” she said.