CORRECTED: With a town full of foodies and home to some of the finest restaurants in the U.S., it’s no wonder foodservice plays an important role for Northern California produce distributors.
“San Francisco is the world of foodies,” said Larry Brucia, president of the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market Board of Directors and president, CEO and owner of Burlingame, Calif.-based John Sutti & Associates Inc., a firm that designs and builds supermarkets.
“People are not afraid to be adventurous in food,” he said.
That’s why chefs love looking at new things, like colored cauliflower or edible flowers, he said, and that presents a lot of opportunities for produce suppliers.
“Things that are unique and different are embraced,” he said. “Not all of them work — some of them fail — but others catch on.”
The produce market has a highly diverse customer base, added Michael Janis, general manager. And the restaurant segment is “a huge strength.”
Companies like Cooks Co. Inc. and VegiWorks Inc. continue to perform well, he said.
“They focus heavily on the restaurant side,” he said. “Without a doubt, they continue to see a lot of growth.”
Twin Peaks Distributing Inc. on the Golden Gate Terminal Market in South San Francisco has done a “significant amount” of foodservice business consistently for the past six or seven years, said Guy Davidoff, an owner of the company.
“We have wonderful neighborhood restaurants,” he said, which means people don’t have to get dressed up and go out to a fancy eatery to enjoy good food.
“Consumers want the best produce,” he said.
The San Francisco area is close to the growing area and has foodservice distributors that provide “some of the finest product in the U.S.,” Davidoff said.
Bay Area Herbs and Specialties LLC on the Golden Gate Produce Terminal does a lot of foodservice business, said Steven Hurwitz, owner and president, and sales are strong.
“The economy in the Bay Area is very robust,” he said.
That means big companies have bigger budgets for entertaining in restaurants, Hurwitz said.
While restaurants may buy a certain amount of organic produce, not many are certified organic or offer 100% organic fruits or vegetables, said Robert Lichtenberg, director of purchasing for Earl’s Organic Produce on the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market.
“Where there’s a marketing edge, they use (organic),” he said. “But if it’s not marketed as organic, mostly, they don’t buy organics.”
Pete Carcione, president of Carcione’s Fresh Produce Co. Inc. on the Golden Gate Produce Terminal, said about 20% of the company’s business comes from people who buy for restaurants, and he said that volume has increased.
One of the company's customers is The FruitGuys, South San Francisco, which buys ripened bananas from Carcione’s that are delivered to offices at some of the region’s major technology companies.
Those who procure fruit for the large corporations are very picky about what they buy, he said.
Brucia said he sees plenty of potential at foodservice for produce suppliers, particularly those on the market.
“One of the goals of the market should be to continue to reach out to the food community of San Francisco and let them know that coming down to the market and actually seeing and experiencing new products is a very exciting and dynamic thing to do and is worth their while.”
Note on correction: The original version of this story incorrectly identified the extent of The FruitGuys' business with Carcione's.