Foodservice suppliers and purchasers in California’s Salinas Valley are maintaining modest growth levels despite recent flat trends in the restaurant industry.
That trend may be slowly changing. According to the National Restaurant Association, 49% of restaurant operators reported higher same-store sales in February over the previous year, up from 39% the month before. And 37% said sales dropped, down from 44% the previous month.
The numbers were bleaker after the recession first surfaced in 2008. But no dire consequences followed, for example, for Salinas, Calif.-based Taylor Farms.
“That was my greatest fear, and instead what’s happened is that restaurants have eliminated labor,” said Bruce Taylor, chief executive officer.
“Restaurants are carrying fewer people in the back room. Even though same-store sales dropped in the restaurant industry over the last couple years, they’re buying more prepared product, and that’s our business.”
Taylor Farms’ foodservice business is up 3% to 4% over last year, Taylor said.
The company has expanded its Salinas foodservice plant.
“We added another 50,000 square feet of finished product cold room space to improve our shipping operations and holding capacity,” said Taylor.
On the retail side, Taylor Farms in March also opened a new salad plant at the former Smucker’s site in Salinas — the city’s first new retail salad plant in more than a decade.
Tim York, president of Salinas-based Markon Cooperative, sees the same positive trend.
“Foodservice overall is definitely rebounding,” York said.
“People are eating out a bit more. They’re still very value focused. Year-to-date we’re up 8% over last year. I don’t think that’s reflective of the overall industry, but that’s what we’re experiencing.”
Markon’s member companies are continuing to grow, York said.
“They’ve made some acquisitions,” he said.
“There’s an overall shift to broadliners away from produce specialists, so we’re encouraged by that. Operators are looking at costs of multiple deliveries. Having one truck instead of multiple trucks makes sense.”
Steve Church, vice president of operations for Salinas-based Church Bros. LLC — the sales and marketing arm of True Leaf Farms — said the foodservice climate is improving, but may be nothing to write home about just yet.
“Foodservice has rebounded somewhat,” Church said.
“Our business is growing slightly.”
With the arrival of spring, Church Bros. has moved two processing lines — one for fresh-cut, one for whole leaf — from Yuma, Ariz., to San Juan Bautista, Calif. It’s their first time in California after an initial run in Arizona.
Mann Packing, Salinas, is extending its foodservice offerings with a new product, Arcadian Harvest.
The lettuce is bred from various combinations of green leaf, red leaf, tango, lolla rosa, Batavia and oak varieties. Leaves are petite and mature.
“The lettuce is being marketed first to foodservice customers as plate-ready with minimal preparation time,” said Elena Hernandez, marketing coordinator for Mann Packing.
“A 1-ounce serving of Arcadian Harvest equals 1.5 ounces of spring mix in plate coverage.”
The heads are single cut, Hernandez said — cleaned once at the base to eliminate pinking.