The foodservice industry is clamoring for more fresh berries across all segments of the marketplace, according to the California Giant Berry Farms.
The demand is so perceptible that the Watsonville, CA-based farm co-op recently appointed industry veteran Tom Smith to the newly formed position of director of foodservice where he will assist with marketing and sales.
“The fresh produce industry as a whole has seen more gravitation to foodservice as a way to guard against highs and low of the seasons and markets,” Smith explained during a recent interview.
“This would provide balance in maintaining consistent business all year long.”
In addition to offsetting the growing seasons’ fluctuations, Smith said the co-op as well as the fresh produce industry have been seeing a steady increase in the demand for fresh berries from operators. Its products include strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries – both conventional and organic – with the latter also seeing a spurt in consumer demand.
“Our growers see value in the foodservice business,” Smith noted.
But the definitive source of the industry’s attention to fresh berries is the consumer. Smith said this trend is equally visible in the commercial and non-commercial segments.
For example, on the schools’ side, fresh produce consumption was boosted by former First Lady Michelle Obama. Today, the push for healthier options for children’s meals is coming from parents, school systems and governments.
Restaurants have also been eager to jump on the berry wagon.
“Wendy’s has been offering a fresh fruit salad during the summer and it’s had tremendous success. This season, Denny’s is offering a fresh berry option with pancakes,” Smith said. “Obviously, restaurants have caught on to the fresh fruit trend.”
The same kind of tendency can be seen in schools, universities, hospitals and senior living facilities. “It’s across the board and it’s driven by consumer demand,” Smith explained.
This welcome development has led to an explosion of presentation ideas – berries are no longer limited in day parts and applications.
“Berries have been thought of as desserts, breakfasts, brunches, fruit plates or parfaits. Berries can also be used in salads and sauces, and they can be used as garnish for entrees and center of the plate items,” he said.
To meet the demand, Smith is busy preparing a comprehensive range of sales, marketing, training and presentation ideas for distributors and end users.
This consumer trend bodes well for the fresh produce and California Giant Berry Farms. Smith indicated that the co-op’s business has been growing in the foodservice sector and it plans to support growth by adding acreage and available items. While still calculating the effects on its bottom line, he anticipates that growth will be incremental.
“We’re still looking at the broad scope of what our business is and where fresh fruit is going. We want to make sure that we’re allotting and aligning enough products not only for current customers but also for growth,” he said.