Avocados abound in foodservice - The Packer

Avocados abound in foodservice

03/14/2012 12:32:00 PM
Tom Burfield

Foodservice is a rapidly growing sector of the avocado industry, and for good reason. Restaurant operators have come up with a wealth of ways to use avocados, said Bruce Dowhan, general manager of Escondido, Calif.-based Giumarra Agricom International LLC.

Not that long ago, just about the only place you’d see avocados in restaurants was in guacamole. Today, you’re just as likely to see the fruit in salads, pizzas and on sandwiches, he said.

Not even at the height of the recession, when consumers were more frequently eating at home and less often at restaurants, did Steve Taft, president and chief executive officer of Eco-Farms Corp., Temecula, Calif., see a drop in foodservice business.

Taft said his customers typically use avocados in sandwiches as well as in guacamole.

Brandon Gritters, avocado salesman for Interfresh Inc., Fullerton, Calif., said foodservice sales were consistent for Interfresh during the recession.

Rob Wedin, vice president of fresh sales and marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif., said Calavo had “very strong sales” in the foodservice category throughout the recession.

“Avocados had a big year at foodservice last year,” he said, with lots of promotions and myriad restaurants jumping on the avocado bandwagon with Mexican items, sandwiches and even sushi.

Even with a price spike resulting from a drop in supply last year, demand remained strong, he said.

Sandwich sales

The sandwich category especially has sparked a boost in avocado sales as restaurant chains including Beaumont, Texas-based Jason’s Deli and Milford, Conn.-based Subway advertise avocados on their sandwiches, he said.

Foodservice business accounts for “a sizable amount” but not the lion’s share of the business for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif., said Ross Wileman, vice president of sales and marketing.

Most of the company’s foodservice business is with traditional Mexican-style restaurants, he said, where chefs put the fruit on sandwiches and in salads as well as in guacamole.

But the company also has seen a sales boost among mainstream sandwich-type restaurants, such as Subway and St. Louis-based Panera Bread.

Avocados actually may have benefited during the recession, he said, as many consumers downsized their dining-out budget and patronized restaurants such as Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. that tend to feature avocados on their menus.

Dana Thomas, president of Index Fresh Inc., Bloomington, Calif., is excited about foodservice trends he’s been seeing.

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