Demand for foodservice has been unpredictable.

The need for flexibility is greater than ever. Demand is unpredictable. Standardized programs aren’t fitting like they used to.

This past year has upended all sense of normalcy and forced business of all types to look at new ways to do business. Foodservice was certainly hit hard, forcing restaurants to become more than a place to enjoy dinner by forcing many to re-imagining supply chain by providing grocery options and letting people take the dining experience back home or to the patio. 

One significant struggle restaurants faced was supply. Demand for foodservice has been unpredictable and so the standardized plans and procedures suddenly went out the window. Some restaurants abandoned some of their fresh produce ingredients for frozen because past sourcing practices did not fit with the new challenges restaurants are facing such as labor shifting from prep to sanitization and new budget constraints.

Knowing some of the insider strategies with produce sourcing and logistics can help your business survive and even thrive. It all begins with putting together a customized sourcing and logistics plan that can help keep fresh ingredients in your menu, stabilize fluctuations, save on labor, and retain quality and freshness of product. 

Keep your Fresh Ingredients

Don’t ditch the fresh! There are three major areas that will help you keep those valuable fresh ingredients and not turn to frozen options. 

Menu—Start off by looking at what is in your pantry. Can you cross-utilize produce items in more than one dish? Are there new and unexpected ways to use the fresh item or even create a new dish or limited time offering? There are many ideas and abundant inspiration available within the produce industry. Produce providers that specifically work in foodservice offer consultations with menu planning and development and can bring new ideas and strategy to maximize the fresh produce items in your pantry and back of house efficiencies.

Sourcing—The other area to look at is the sourcing itself. Are you working with the grower/packer that can cut and pack produce to your specific spec and case size? Are you taking advantage of product that can be trimmed and cut before it is shipped? What about custom packed commodity produce? There are grower and processors out there that have the agility to work with foodservice providers on their custom specs or case sizes.  The right partner will make or break your produce program.

COVID’s Impact—Operationally COVID has caused a shift from back of house to the customer-facing front of house, redistributing labor on cleaning and sanitizing tables, restrooms, and maintaining a spotless appearance. Patrons have a heightened sensitivity to any sign of uncleanness and this could mean a lost sale. With that, restaurants don’t need to sacrifice fresh produce because they needed to shift labor away from food prep. Instead fresh cut products can be used and with the right provider can be cut to your exact spec. As you’ll see later, there are many benefits with this particular sourcing strategy.

Stabilize Fluctuation

Our markets and business are anything but predictable, but there are some strategies with produce that stabilize the unknowns.

Market—Whole or commodity produce is subject to the ups and downs of the market price. There is also the unknown with yield on commodity, how much will you actually be able to use once the item is trimmed and prepped. Fresh cut takes away the variables of market and yield because the preparation is done near the source, but it fully customized to your need. Starting your sourcing strategy with fresh cut products takes away any questions about what you will receive and what you will pay for it.

Labor—A challenge restaurants have dealt with this year to an even greater degree has been labor. It is was already a pain point before COVID for operators with rising labor rates, but with more of the workforce staying home to quarantine, not much labor is left for food prep. Purchasing fresh cut items puts the prep work with the grower / processor also giving you more control over food safety and resulting in more consistency with the product (a big benefit for multi-unit operations). Besides easing the labor burden on operators, fresh cut produce is a sustainable option with only the usable produce shipped across the country saving shipping space, emissions, and shipping costs.

The Right People Make the Difference

Sometimes bringing in the right people can make or break your business, but especially with fresh produce items and the variables and special demands they bring to sourcing and use. It starts with the grower, processors and ends with the teams supporting you after the purchase. Those with experience, able to work quickly, respond to your calls and emails, and get stuff done are the teams that will point you to the growers, shippers, and strategies that can turn produce into an area of your sourcing that is enjoyable and easy. It is those teams that can take the unpredictability of a global crisis and bring a little more stability and freshness to your restaurant’s operation through produce.

Amber Parrow is the marketing director for Fresh Avenue, a group that works with national restaurant brands on their produce strategy, sourcing, and logistics. You can connect with Amber and the Fresh Avenue team on LinkedIn.

Expert Takes, Feature