Foodservice business sees rebound as economy starts improving

02/11/2011 02:31:49 PM
Tom Burfield

The worst seems to be over for the dip in strawberry foodservice sales.

Foodservice business was off significantly for Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC during 2009 but bounced back to pre-recession levels in 2010, said Jim Roberts, vice president of sales.

Sales have stayed at that level into 2011, he said.

Similarly, San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce saw a fairly significant drop in foodservice sales two years ago, said Mark Munger, vice president of marketing. But now sales “are definitely on the rebound.”

Watsonville-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc. also saw foodservice sales drop off in late 2008, said Douglas Ronan, vice president of marketing.

The drop had a short-term effect on the company’s foodservice business, but the slump seems to be ending.

“We’re seeing a positive return,” he said.

Foodservice accounts for only 10% to 15% of the business at Well-Pict Inc., Watsonville, so the company didn’t experience much of a drop, said Dan Crowley, sales manager.

“There was no significant shift,” he said.

The category has benefited from the fact that a number of quick-serve restaurants are getting more involved with the strawberry category, helping to drive consumption, Roberts said.

McDonald’s restaurants last year launched a berry smoothies line and consequently bought a lot of berries to meet the demand. Even though most of that deal involves processed berries in the form of puree, it affects fresh production, he said.

More foodservice operators are incorporating berries into their menus because of their health benefits and because the category has experienced growth at retail level, he said.

“Foodservice providers understand that this is a hot category for consumers right now, and they’re looking to capitalize on that,” Roberts said.

Consumers are starting to eat out again, and that is helping to rebuild foodservice business, Munger said.

Meanwhile, Munger said he has noticed a trend among restaurant owners over the past five years toward clamshell containers and away from open boxes.

Most foodservice customers buy the 1-pound packages, but some buy 2-pounders to help keep costs down, he said.

Clamshells have a lot of advantages over open boxes, he said.

“From a food safety standpoint, they are a fairly safe container,” he said.

Clamshells also protect the berries from being damaged and, importantly for restaurants where space can be at a premium, clamshells can be stacked in a refrigeration unit, he said.

A tray of 1-pint containers typically contains 10.5 pounds of fruit as opposed to 8 pounds for a tray of 1-pound clamshells, Munger said.

But he added that shippers tend to overpack clamshells, so buyer actually are getting more than a pound of product, and there is significantly less cutting and bruising in clamshells than in open baskets.

“We let (buyers) make the decision,” Munger said.

“Ultimately, what’s best for their business is going to be best for our business.”



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