“Same old, same old” is far from an apt description of the foodservice industry — at least from a produce supplier’s perspective.
Companies that do business with restaurants, hotels, schools and other institutions say their foodservice clients keep them on their toes with constant demands for things that are new and different.
Customers of Oxnard, Calif.-based Boskovich Farms Inc. are tired of traditional, lettuce-based salads and are looking for innovative products to differentiate themselves from their competition, said Mike O’Leary, vice president of fresh-cut.
Much of that demand is driven by diners themselves.
The consumer is exposed to different things,” O’Leary said.
Television food channels with a plethora of restaurant-themed reality shows and cooking programs, along with newspapers and food-oriented magazines, open up a whole new world of food — including fruits and vegetables — to readers and viewers, he said.
Consumers are eager to buy the products they’ve seen, heard about or read about when they dine out.
That’s why Boskovich Farms has expanded its product line to include items such as cebollitas, a barbecue-style green onion with a large bulb that caramelizes when coated with olive oil, salt and pepper and is cooked on the grill.
Restaurants have become more price conscious and more family centered than in the past, said Mitch DiMarco, director of foodservice/industrial operations for Spice World Inc., Orlando, Fla.
Even fine-dining establishments have become more value oriented as corporations tighten the reins on travel expenses, and family-oriented restaurants have gained popularity because of their affordability and comfort food orientation, he said.
DiMarco thinks the trend will continue, and he foresees no decline in sales of Spice World’s “rock-solid” spices and garlic products.
The consumer trend toward more healthful foods has translated into increased foodservice demand for fresh berries, said Doug Ronan, vice president of marketing for Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., Watsonville, Calif.
Ronan said he expects to see continued innovations in usage and recipe ideas throughout the entire menu, “not just traditional foodservice applications of fresh berries.”
The trend toward new technology is something Jay Iverson, partner and vice president of sales and marketing at GreenGate Fresh LLLP, Salinas, Calif., is trying to keep in check.
Make no mistake, the company does business on iTrade and electronic trading platforms, and Iverson believes technology that saves time and reduces paperwork is “fantastic.”
What bothers him is that the new technology makes it possible to go days or even longer without talking with a customer.
“The industry as a whole has lost a bit of the personal contact,” Iverson said, and he doesn’t feel comfortable about that.
“I don’t mind going back in time in some ways if it means building a stronger buyer-seller relationship,” he said.
Changes have taken place inside and outside of foodservice establishments, said Vince Ballesteros, director of sales for Church Bros. LLC, Salinas.
Restaurants want new items that make an appealing plate presentation and have a good taste profile, he said.
Church Bros.’ new wasabi arugula program helps customers achieve that.
“It allows us to adopt a taste profile from Europe and bring it to the states,” he said.
The company’s baby lettuces and cascade blend also help customers achieve that goal, said Ernst Van Eeghen, director of marketing and product development.
At the same time, rising fuel costs and higher freight rates also have the foodservice sector looking for more efficient ways to do business, such as taking advantage of load consolidation, Ballesteros said.
Trucks that typically make six or seven stops are looking to cut back on pickups to save time, money and fuel.
“Companies like ours are doing really well because we offer so many commodities, plus we offer consolidation services,” Eeghen said.
Fewer pickups also can enhance products’ shelf lives, he said.