Restaurants covet New Jersey produce for practical, as well as competitive, reasons, suppliers say.

“In foodservice, these guys are doing a lot of specialty restaurants and stores and are always looking for new and different types of items — varieties of kale, radishes, rainbow chard,” said Bill Nardelli Jr., vice president of sales for Cedarville, N.J.-based vegetable grower-shipper Nardelli Bros. Inc.

“Anything they can feature different on their menus, they love that kind of stuff.”

Restaurants are combing the state in quest of locally grown produce that they can highlight on their menus, said Tom Beaver, director of marketing and development with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.

“We certainly do see it. It’s growing in popularity,” he said.

There are a number of distributors who are solely in the business of distributing local product to restaurants, Beaver said.

“The restaurants see the value for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is it’s fresher and better quality,” he said.

“That means the best-quality dish on a restaurant’s table.”



Restaurants also can promote the fact that they source it local, which has high value, Beaver said.

“That’s only going to continue because of the amount of restaurants looking to set themselves apart and looking for that high-quality product,” he said.

Suppliers agree.

“We’ve got several customers that sell directly to restaurants, and they’re a good consistent business — not big volume, but decent,” said Tom Sheppard, president of Cedarville-based Eastern Fresh Growers.

There’s also contract business with pizzerias and quick-service restaurant outlets, which look for consistent supplies, Sheppard said.

“It’s at a profit and good,” he said.

“You sell a portion when you have volume and when you have to sell ahead of time. If we hadn’t committed some, we wouldn’t move more volumes.”

Local produce also can be a lure to diners who might be looking for a good meal with a break on cost, said Bob Von Rohr, marketing and customer relations manager for Glassboro, N.J.-based distributor Sunny Valley International Inc.

“A lot of restaurants do the daily specials with some of the Jersey items for locally grown,” he said.