FRESNO, Calif. — One of the California Table Grape Commission’s main charges is to boost use and consumption of the state’s table grapes, and foodservice is no exception.
This year, the commission will continue ongoing efforts to work with menu developers of national and regional restaurant chains, said Courtney Romano of Kirkland, Wash.-based Romano & Associates LLC, and a consultant to the table grape commission.
The commission’s work also includes helping menu developers at what Romano called noncommercial feeders, such as schools, incorporate grapes.
“Grapes are encouraged in schools and were recently added to the USDA’s (Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program),” she said.
One of the commission’s most recent successes is Arby’s, where all 3,500 restaurants now offer the Market Fresh chicken pecan salad, which contains grapes.
Other chains that use grapes include California Pizza Kitchen (salad and kids’ menu), McDonald’s (fruit and walnut snack), Ruby Tuesday (salad bar, kids’ menu), Olive Garden (kids’ menu), Eat ‘n Park (kids’ menu), Longhorn Steakhouse (salad), and Panera Bread (chicken salad sandwich).
Grapes lend themselves to foodservice because they’re easy to handle and don’t need any ripening or preconditioning before use, she said.
“They are a standout ingredient in signature dishes. They are an easy, healthy choice for any menu, but especially kids’ menus,” Romano said.
The commission also is continuing its partnership with the Hyde Park, N.Y, based Culinary Institute of America, and its ProChef website, www.ciaprochef.com, features grapes prominently, Romano said.
“Grapes Make the Plate — Fresh Ideas for Modern Menus,” which includes topics ranging from grape care to new menu and use ideas, is one of several topics that rotate on the website home page.
In addition, the commission’s own website, www.tablegrape.com, contains in-depth content for foodservice chefs.
As part of its foodservice program, commission representatives continue to conduct outreach to provide new menu concepts to chefs and menu developers, Romano said.
These efforts include exposure at industry events that target foodservice professionals as well as one-on-one communication.
Specific promotions are still in the works that the commission plans to unveil later in the season, she said.
Foodservice comprises a sizable and growing part of business for the Chuck Olsen Co., Visalia, said vice president Jeff Olsen.
“School programs have been a big part of the contract business for us,” he said.
“Obviously, you’re trying to encourage the consumption of fresh produce.”
He said table grapes lend themselves to that category because most consumers, and especially children, like them.
Up to 90% of the foodservice business is red grapes, with the balance in green, he said.
Most grapes are shipped in 19-pound boxes, although the company does other packs at a customer’s request, Olson said.
Sundale Vineyards, Tulare, also has seen growth in its restaurant and school foodservice business, said Sean Stockton, president.
“Serving more fresh fruit has become a priority for schools, and grapes are at the forefront,” he said.
“They’re one of the items that have been shown to be healthy for you and for your heart with antioxidants.”