Foodservice expands avocado use

11/02/2012 02:48:00 PM
Tom Burfield

For years, fresh guacamole has been a popular offering in many restaurants. But Mexican avocado grower-shippers are seeing more of their product showing up in a variety of menu items — other than guacamole.

“You can’t go into a restaurant, whether it’s in New England, Chicago or Florida, without there being one or two things with avocados on the menu,” said Bob Lucy, partner in Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif.

“It’s a staple on the foodservice menu now,” he said. “It’s really gone way beyond guacamole.”

Promoting a variety of uses

On a recent trip to the East Coast, Lucy said he heard radio commercials for Panera Bread bakery-cafes promoting avocados.

He’s seen avocados served with salmon, on turkey sandwiches and in salads.

“We’ve always had great success at retail, and foodservice is really taking off,” he said. “(Avocados) are pretty much mainstream.”

“The word is out,” said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and fresh marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif. “You can do a successful fresh avocado program, and you can make money at it and attract customers.”

Hardly a week goes by that one of the company’s foodservice customers doesn’t ask for a program using avocados, he said.

The Subway chain in particular has called attention to avocados on its menu.

“The lesson that we’re getting from Subway is incredible,” Wedin said.

Chipotle Grill, El Poll Loco, BJ’s Restaurants Inc. and other chains also have done a good job promoting avocados, he said, and not just for guacamole.

“It’s moving more and more into various usages — like salads and sandwiches,” he said. “It’s all about avocados.”

Marketing pays off

Gahl Crane, director of avocado sales for Green Earth Produce, Vernon, Calif., attributed much of the increase in foodservice avocado sales to various trade groups that have encouraged foodservice operators to incorporate avocados into their menus.

Guacamole remains a popular item for occasions like the Super Bowl, he said, but, like other grower-shippers, he’s noticed a number of other uses for the avocado at foodservice.

“It’s become a culinary specialty,” he said.

Bruce Dowhan, general manager at Giumarra Agricom International LLC, Escondido, Calif., a division of The Giumarra Cos., Los Angeles, said the healthy-eating trend has prompted some consumers to order more avocado items when they dine out.

“They’re high in potassium and monounsaturated fats, and that has helped increase demand,” he said.

“A lot of restaurant chains are adding avocados to their menus,” agreed Ross Wileman, vice president of sales and marketing for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif.

“I see a lot of usage in sandwiches and salads,” he said, citing their appearance in restaurants such as Panera Bread, Subway and Chipotle. “I think it’s definitely a growing area.”

Foodservice operators know that both Mexico and California are sources of good, fresh avocados, Wedin said, and both have their time of year when quality is at a peak.

Foodservice customers tend to stay with a source longer than retail customers, and they typically switch to a new source a month or later than retailers, he said.

Many foodservice operators request preconditioned avocados, Crane said. And a number order avocados in single-layer flats to save space in the kitchen and to allow for daily deliveries that can ensure freshness and cut down on shrink.

Lucy said avocado consumption is climbing in foodservice and all segments, and he expects the trend to continue.

“I think we can probably double that consumption within five to 10 years,” he said. “We’re just scratching the surface.”



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