The National Watermelon Promotion Board, Winter Springs, Fla., is reaching out to foodservice culinary, marketing, purchasing and nutrition decision-makers in the hope of encouraging the use of watermelons in dishes like this Latin-inspired Watermelon Salad with Pickled Watermelon Rind from chef Rebecca Peizer of The Culinary Institute of America. ( Courtesy National Watermelon Promotion Board )

Although overall restaurant sales typically are higher during the summer than other times of the year, sales at individual restaurants can vary significantly depending on the customer base and location, according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Restaurant Association’s research division.

The association’s Restaurant Performance Index was down 0.5% in April, according to the latest report available, but indicators were in expansion territory, “which means restaurant operators are generally optimistic about business conditions in the months ahead.”

The association’s top produce trends for 2018 are uncommon herbs, hybrid fruit/vegetables, heirloom fruit and vegetables, exotic fruit and super fruit.

Business seems to be strong for most produce companies that supply the foodservice industry, but some say summer can be a slow time of year.

“We have always seen a little bit of a decrease in demand during the summertime,” said Dave Johnson, salesman for Gold Coast Packing Inc., Santa Maria, Calif.

That’s largely because school is out, and consumers take more vacations “and get out of their normal patterns,” he said.

Business at Gold Coast Packing can pick up by 20% when kids go back to school, Johnson said.

The National Restaurant Association’s top produce trends for 2018 are uncommon herbs, hybrid fruit/vegetables, heirloom fruit and vegetables, exotic fruit and super fruit.

Sales of grapes and smaller oranges tend to drop off in some areas during the summer when school is out, said Jeff Olsen, president of the Chuck Olsen Co. Inc., Visalia, Calif.

But orange sales actually pick up at some establishments on the East Coast.

Bars that serve freshly made orange juice mixed with vodka and other ingredients in a smoothie-like drink may buy 100 cases during the week in the summer and 500 cases on weekends, he said.

Up to 65% of the company’s business is with foodservice, Olsen said.

City of Industry-based FreshPoint Southern California, a wholly owned subsidiary of Houston-based Sysco Corp., doesn’t experience a big increase in foodservice sales during the summer, said recently retired president Verne Lusby.

“But there’s not a huge decrease, either,” he added.

“It’s pretty steady year-round” for the mix of foodservice establishments that FreshPoint serves, he said.

At Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, Calif., business is expected to increase over the summer, said Mike O’Leary, vice president of sales and marketing for the company’s fresh-cut division.

“The East Coast and Midwest experienced (a) cooler winter/spring and look to drive fresh vegetable offerings during the summer months,” he said.

Business at quick-service restaurants tends to be particularly brisk during the peak vacation season, he added.

Overall, he said, the company continues to experience significant growth annually. 

Boskovich Farms offers a full line of fresh produce and value-added vegetables.

Salad items, like iceberg and romaine lettuce and spinach, which have moved to the center of the plate, continue to drive volume, O’Leary said, while ingredient items, like cilantro, parsley and green onions, are strong summer offerings.

Foodservice business “plays a critical role in our overall sales focus” at Mission Produce Inc., an Oxnard, Calif.-based avocado grower-shipper, said Brent Scattini, vice president of sales and marketing.

“What we do in the foodservice sector helps us sell the entire tree,” he said.

Scattini, who also serves as co-chairman of the Produce Marketing Association’s Foodservice Conference Committee, said Mission Produce is “adding resources to make sure that we are providing the appropriate information and the appropriate fruit to those customers on the foodservice side of the industry.”

Gold Coast’s Johnson said there has been a change in the way foodservice business is conducted.

Many foodservice customers today actually are corporate customers like Sysco Corp. and Pro*Act, he said.

Rather than talk with restaurant chains on a regular basis, “We meet up once a quarter and talk about items,” he said.

“The old days of actually being in touch with restaurants themselves — it’s not like it used to be.”