Organic produce is listed among the top 50 trends for 2018 by the National Restaurant Association, and “veggie-centric/vegetable-forward cuisine” is included in the association’s Top 10 Hot Trends for 2018.
Still, organic produce suppliers say foodservice typically doesn’t account for a major part of their business.
Getting organic permanent crops in the foodservice arena has been a struggle, said Scott Mabs, chief executive officer for Homegrown Organic Farms, Porterville, Calif.
That’s due in part to supply — assuring a customer that adequate product will be available year-round — and in part to the price aspect.
Restaurants are not likely to want to pay a premium for organic product that would result in higher prices for menu items and make it difficult to compete with other restaurants offering conventional product, he said.
Foodservice sales are “better than they were five years ago,” he said.
“But they’re still a small component.”
However, he added that he sees opportunity for growth in the future.
Spotlight on organic
Restaurants that feature organic produce tend to “really put a spotlight on it,” said Addie Pobst, organic integrity and logistics coordinator for Viva Tierra Organic Inc., Mount Vernon, Wash.
They may, for example, call attention to the fact that they use organic ingredients on their menus, or they may put up a chalkboard that lists organic items available that day, she said.
“They make a point to call it out and put (that value) in front of the consumer,” she said.
That creates visibility for organic fruits and vegetables.
Pobst said she doesn’t see why a restaurant would pay a premium for organic ingredients without having some way to make it visible to the consumer.
Viva Tierra does not sell much organic fruit directly to restaurants, she said, but the company does sell to wholesalers or regional distributors who may do business with foodservice establishments.
Salinas, Calif-based Church Brothers Farms, a grower/processor/shipper of more than 500 fresh vegetable products, offers organically grown produce as part of its overall product line to meet growing consumer demand that can be felt even in the foodservice channel, said Jeff Church, vice president of sales.
The company’s organic product line includes spring mix, baby kales, wild arugula and baby spinach, he said.
Church Brothers Farms markets the items under the True Leaf Farms label.
Giorgio Fresh Co., Blandon, Pa., receives inquiries from foodservice customers about organic mushrooms, said Bill Litvin, senior vice president sales and national accounts manager.
“At least in my opinion, it does not create the buzz that organic does in retail,” he said.
Champ’s Mushrooms Inc., Aldergrove, British Columbia, doesn’t do a lot of foodservice business, but the company is ready to provide product for foodservice, said Michael Richmond, sales manager.
Champ’s has a full organic slicing and packing line that is used for retail but could just easily handle mushrooms for foodservice, he said.
Fresh Express Inc., Salinas, Calif., does not have a lot of foodservice business either, said Michael Golderman, marketing brand leader.
“Foodservice tends to be a channel where cost is an important component,” he said, and organic produce can be relatively expensive compared to conventional produce.
“Unless you’re an entirely organic platform at your restaurant, it’s probably not going to be on the menu, which limits where you go with it,” he said.
At The Nunes Co. in Salinas, which markets the Foxy Organic brand, “The foodservice side of the business is growing,” said Doug Classen, vice president of sales.
But he added that the organic category has not met the growth the firm has enjoyed at retail.