With an antioxidant-driven nutritional message, convenience and price boosting Chilean blueberry sales in retail stores, the product has the same possibilities in restaurants, according to marketing agents.
“There’s a lot of growth potential,” said Dave Bowe, owner of Coral Springs, Fla.-based Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc. “The difficult part for the guys in Chile is it’s basically off-season here. In the summer months here, there’s a lot of sales because the weather is warm. During winter months, the difficult part for Chileans is getting people to realize there’s still a huge crop that’s available.
“Foodservice definitely has very big potential. Retail continues to grow. It’s just a matter of Chile convincing people there’s still a viable crop coming your way in winter.”
For some marketers, retail sales are the focus.
“That’s where our concentration is right now,” said Cindy Jewell, marketing director at Watsonville-based California Giant, which is a relative newcomer to the Chilean deal.
Bob Von Rohr, marketing and customer relations manager for Glassboro, N.J.-based grower-shipper Sunny Valley International Inc., voiced a similar philosophy.
“We do very little here with foodservice,” he said. “They often use the processed, and we don’t handle that.”
However, Von Rohr said indications point to more restaurants looking for ways to incorporate blueberries into their menus.
“I think I’ve received more phone calls over the last two years from food processors asking for blueberries,” he said.
Berry availability has stifled the category in restaurants in the past, but that’s no longer the case, said Tom Tjerandsen, managing director for North America with the Sonoma, Calif.-based Chilean Fresh Fruit Association.
“Menu planners now recognize that blueberries are one of the key fruits that have a 12-month seamless supply,” Tjerandsen said. “They can now confidently menu many different berries without having to worry that the wait staff will have to continually apologize for an unavailable menu item.”
Keith Mixon, president of Winter Haven, Fla.-based SunnyRidge Farm Inc., said, “The foodservice industry has really started to wake up to the blueberry industry.”
Quick-service restaurants appear to be exploring berry use as much as or more than other foodservice formats, Mixon said.
“Fast food seems to be, just by the sheer number of outlets they have, making the biggest impression up there or the biggest change in our business,” he said. “The other ones are all supporting it, trying to get into the business by getting all their restaurants to move them.”
Retail continues to dominate the Chilean blueberry business, but foodservice is worth exploring, said Janice Honigberg, president of Washington, D.C.-based Sun Belle Inc.
“I think foodservice still represents a small part of consumption, but it’s growing,” she said.
So are opportunities for profits in the field, said Brian Bocock, vice president of product management for Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC.
“Foodservice is huge opportunities,” he said. “I’ll bet you 2% of the total fresh blueberries sold in the U.S. go to foodservice, so there’s a lot of room for growth, and it will grow there.
“(Quick-service restaurants) are very much interested as they market healthier items. Certainly, white-tablecloth restaurants offer opportunities. But you have institutions and public schools. It’s a huge opportunity across the board.”
Those opportunities will grow as quick-service outlets look to blueberries to bolster the nutritional punch on their menus, said Tom Richardson, general manager of Giumarra Cos., Wenatchee, Wash.
“We think that the entire foodservice industry is looking for ways to provide more and more healthy choices,” Richardson said.
“Blueberries certainly offer this opportunity, so we feel that going forward there will be more blueberries on the menus of both fast-food and traditional restaurants.”
Nolan Quinn, berry category director for Vancouver, British Columbia-based Oppenheimer Group, agreed.
“The popularity of blueberries is surging among consumers, in part due to their increased availability and the high awareness that exists about the berry’s antioxidant capacity,” he said.
“Restaurants will take advantage of the popularity of the fruit, and Oppenheimer will seek out opportunities to help fill the demand.”