Mark Villata has some interesting ideas about how to use your blueberries.
Oh sure, you’ve tried them in cereal or maybe in a smoothie. But have you considered blueberry maple barbecue sauce on grilled chicken or blueberry pineapple salsa on your tacos? Don’t forget to wash it down with some blueberry sangria.
Villata, executive director of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, Folsom, Calif., said the council has pushed blueberries onto more chain restaurant menus by providing educational programs for chefs, giving them the insights they need to use blueberries in more dishes.
The council’s efforts helped double the number of blueberry mentions on chain restaurant menus from 2007 to 2013, he said.
“In recent years, the council has interacted with, educated and partnered with decision-makers collectively responsible for tens of thousands of restaurant operations,” Villata said, pointing to work with companies like Dairy Queen, Wendy’s, Red Lobster, Sizzler and institutional accounts.
Grower-shippers also are working to increase berry use in foodservice.
The message is that berries are not just for dessert but also for salads and main dish ingredients, said Mario Flores, director of blueberry product management for Naturipe Farms LLC, Salinas, Calif.
“We have worked with chefs and restaurant industry groups to educate them on health benefits and how to incorporate berries into menus and on the plates,” Flores said. “Berries serve well as a stand-alone item, but they also make excellent ingredient items in both sweet and savory dishes.”
As more and more consumers seek locally grown product, shippers find that connection is one more way to get berries on menus.
“Restaurants are promoting local fare and featuring ‘what’s in season’ menu options,” said Amber Maloney, director of marketing for Wish Farms, Plant City, Fla. “Partnering with foodservice is two-fold for us. It allows us to share our products with the restaurant community but also promote our brand to patrons.”
Maloney said Wish Farms recently partnered with Epicurean Restaurant in Tampa, Fla., to promote seasonal berries.
Wish Farms hosted restaurant staff on a farm tour and appeared on local news stations with the restaurant’s chef. The restaurant featured Florida blueberries on its menu for a month and hosted three blueberry-focused cooking classes in its test kitchen.
Consumers also are looking for healthy choices, said Jim Grabowski, marketing manager for Well-Pict Inc., Watsonville, Calif.
“I think as long as we see the consuming public looking for better and healthier ways to eat, we are going to see a slight uptick in berry sales to foodservice,” he said.
“Restaurants and other food providers are going to need to provide healthier options for their customers if they are going to keep pace with the current trends in eating.”
California Giant Berry Farms, Watsonville, Calif., is putting an increased emphasis on foodservice accounts.
The company created a position for foodservice director earlier this year, luring Tom Smith from Pro*Act.
“We have significantly increased our presence in foodservice,” said Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing. “We are primarily working with distributors and a few large foodservice operators at this point and really starting to nurture this side of our business due to the great potential with our line of berries.”