Research released by Chicago-based Technomic Inc. for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council shows mentions of fresh blueberry on a large sampling of U.S. foodservice menus have increased 176% since 2007.
At the same time, importers of blueberries from Argentina say they’ve seen an increase in sales to foodservice customers who use the berries in cheesecake, tarts and other menu offerings.
Naturipe Farms LLC, Salinas, Calif., has been making a concerted effort to appeal to the foodservice sector, said Jim Roberts, vice president of sales.
Five years ago, only 1% of foodservice operators used blueberries, even though consumers spent half of their food dollars at restaurants, he said.
“We have actively been approaching foodservice providers for the last four or five years,” he said. “We’ve really been at the forefront trying to increase usage.”
The company has spent a lot of time working with chains and at individual restaurants, including white-tablecloth establishments, to encourage chefs to use blueberries in their menu options, he said.
“There’s been a lot of work that we’ve done on menu development and product development to get them to use more blueberries, and we are seeing great results from that,” Roberts said.
In the past, blueberries were used primarily in desserts, sauces or garnishes, he said.
Now, restaurants are expanding their use into items like oatmeal and salads.
Naturipe lists hundreds of items that make sense for foodservice operators, Roberts said, and works with them on year-round programs as well as seasonal promotions that take advantage of peak production.
Nader Musleh, executive director of the blueberry division for California Giant Inc., Watsonville, said he has seen a significant increase in the volume of blueberries going to foodservice over the past five years.
Major fast food chains feature blueberries in salads and other menu items, and other restaurants are actively promoting blueberries as they have other kinds of berries, he said.
That’s good news for importers of Argentina berries, because restaurateurs want to offer blueberries year-round and not have to change their menus when the domestic deal winds down.
Argentina has its own window, Musleh said.
“We continue to see blueberry consumption growing across all sectors of the food industry,” said Tom Richardson, vice president of global development for Giumarra International Berry, Los Angeles.09/12/2014 The Packer