(June 3) SEATTLE — The stumbling economy is creating uncertainty about the restaurant business, but to offset the foodservice industry’s perceived instability, other segments are providing new opportunities for Northwest wholesalers.

“Three months ago, we started feeling the affect,” said Jeff Porter, general manager of Emerald City Pre-Pack Inc.

“The restaurants started dropping, and distribution started dropping, and it becomes much more competitive in an already competitive market. We’re really focused on adding new customers.”

Emerald City is trying to regain the commissary account it lost in December, when the commissary switched to larger foodservice vendors, costing Emerald City $20,000 a week, said Jim Hamilton, Emerald City’s president.

Emerald City supplied tomatoes and additional vegetables to the commissary, which is government-contracted and serves local military operations, Hamilton said.

Now, Emerald City is challenging the government to reclaim its contract, since, according to law, any minority-owned company — which Emerald City is, being owned by a woman — is entitled to 5% of any government contract, Hamilton said.

“We’re hoping to get the military account,” Porter said. “There’s a really big military presence in Seattle.”

Eugene, Ore.-based Organically Grown Co. also has a new deal, supplying the vendors at the Olympic time trials that are taking place this summer in Eugene, said David Lively, Organically Grown’s marketing director.

“The city of Eugene has a sustainability initiative, and whenever something like this comes around, they immediately begin asking how to incorporate sustainability and organics into it,” Lively said.

The University of Oregon also is a prospective customer for Organically Grown, as the school is taking a harder look at its food-sourcing process, Lively said.

F.C. Bloxom Co. recently began distributing frozen meat alternatives, manufactured by Field Roast, which Bloxom provides the eggplant, garlic and onion for, said vice-president William Bloxom.

The company is hoping to support the vegetarian movement by getting vegetable products in Seattle schools, Bloxom said.

“Just give me one meal — one veg meal,” Bloxom said in reference to the Seattle school district. “It would do a lot of good for kids’ health and obesity.”

Charlie’s Produce was just getting involved in its deal servicing cruise liners that dock in the Puget Sound — a solid customer for the wholesaler, said Ray Bowen, president of Charlie’s Produce.

“We had our first boat up here last week,” said Bowen, whose firm also serves restaurants and hospitals and is a member of Monterey, Calif.-based Pro*Act. “It continues through October and is a nice piece of business.”

The foodservice segment is likely to become a bigger customer for fresh produce companies, particularly schools and hospitals, as foodservice parties become increasingly interested in offering fresh fruits and vegetables, said Maureen Royal, director of sales and marketing for Sedro-Woolley, Wash.-based CF Fresh.

“I think there are many avenues of foodservice still to explore for all of us,” said Royal, whose firm supplies schools, institutions and restaurants.

Although unsettling at the moment, restaurants are still a significant portion of many Northwest distributors’ customer base, including Clackamas, Ore.-based Botsford & Goodfellow Inc.

“That’s the scary part of our business,” said president Chuck Botsford. “In this economic environment, people aren’t going to go out and spend the money.”

Organically Grown works with several area restaurants, such as Portland’s Blossoming Lotus, Higgins and The Bijou Cafe, and Adam’s Place and Marche in Eugene, Lively said.

The restaurant business, on the other hand, actually has been fairly stable for Coastal Inc., Portland, which services the broadliners and has national accounts with Burger King and Subway, said Dennis Baird, Coastal’s vice president and general manager.

“With the economy, you hear people might stop eating out, but the restaurant business always has a little bit of an edge,” said Baird, whose company focuses on foodservice because it demands more of the cherry, grape and vine tomatoes that Coastal offers, as tomatoes are around 65% of Coastal’s business.