Rebounding restaurant business and an emphasis on fresh menu items have combined to boost foodservice business for many California grower-packers of cool-season crops.
Dan Canales, vice president of sales and marketing for Misionero Vegetables, said when the economy first took a downtown turn around 2008 the Gonzales, Calif.-based grower-shipper experienced a drop in foodservice business and volume.
However, that loss of volume was more than offset by an increase in retail volume as people stayed home and cooked more.
Now that the economy is beginning to recover, Canales said he is seeing foodservice rebound.
“We’re seeing tonnage come back on the foodservice, and we’re also seeing nice, steady growth on the retail side,” he said. “It’s nice healthy growth all the way around.”
Elena Hernandez, marketing and communications specialist for Mann Packing Co., Salinas, Calif., said the grower-shipper is seeing growth in its foodservice business.
“People weren’t eating out in restaurants as they were before, but restaurants are getting more creative with their offerings, and fresh is something that won’t go away,” Hernandez said.
Brussels sprouts have enjoyed popularity both in restaurants and at retail, she said.
“We sometimes follow the restaurant trends, and brussels sprouts is that vegetable that has become very popular again,” Hernandez said.
Peter Oill, organic sales and marketing director for Oxnard, Calif.-based Boskovich Farms Inc., said organics also have enjoyed growth in foodservice, “but foodservice is more temperamental with price point.”
Typically, an organic menu item will be more expensive because the ingredients cost more to begin with. As a result, organic menu items tend to appear more often at higher-end eateries than at lower-end restaurants.
Watsonville, Calif.-based Lakeside Organic Gardens doesn’t do a foodservice fresh-cut pack, sales manager Brian Peixoto said. Instead, nearly all of its produce is in bunches or loose in cartons.
But that doesn’t mean Lakeside Organic Garden’s produce doesn’t make its way to eateries, especially the higher-end ones in the San Francisco Bay Area that covet local, organic items.
Lakeside Organic Gardens sells to distributors, who in turn deliver to restaurants.
Peixoto said Lakeside Organic Gardens runs three trucks of its own that make regular deliveries to retailers and distributors in quantities too large for most restaurants.
But distributors, such as Earl’s Organic Produce or Veritable Vegetable, can sell much smaller amounts to restaurants, and many distributors have routes and make deliveries to eateries three times per week.
“We fill the niche by growing the product and getting it to Earl’s, and Earl’s fills that niche getting it to the customer,” Peixoto said.