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The green darling of U.S. foodservice, broccoli spears corn for vegetable lead.

The Green Darling of U.S. Foodservice, Broccoli Spears Corn for Vegetable Lead While the numbers are hard to pin down, QFFI survey finds the popular cauliflower variety to be second to none. And frozen's convenience is pushing fresh out of some restaurants.

It's hard to quantify, but frozen broccoli seems to be making increasing inroads at the nation's restaurants and institutions as either a menu item or for use in toppings, salad bars, etc.

Last year's drought accelerated the trend. According to Nation's Restaurant News, broccoli has replaced corn at both white tablecloth and family restaurants because corns is in short supply. Still, hard statistics are elusive; it's just "what our reporters bring in."

Broccoli itself isn't abundant, at least from U.S. sources. "Our frozen sales are continuing to go up," said Frank Nance of Norpack Food Sales, Lake Oswego, Ore. "We're scrambling to keep the pipeline full. I've got no idea of the overall increase in broccoli sales in percentage terms, but I'm sure it's in double digits."

Asparagus used to be big at restaurants, Nance told Quick Frozen Foods International, but now it is considered "too pricey," and is being replaced by broccoli and whole beans. Meanwhile, Friendly's Ice Cream has added a blend of broccoli and cauliflower to its menu, he said, and even fast food chains are looking into "hot box" microwave vegetables as well as the already popular salad bars.

Wendy's is said to use frozen broccoli as an ingredient in a broccoli and cheese topping for baked potatoes. That may not sound like much, but the chain has more than 3,600 units and, at $2.7 billion, does the fourth-largest volume among all restaurant chains in the U.S. Both Wendy's and Rax (525 + units, $360 million) are said to be looking into hot-box vegetables.

Salad bars are still the most popular outlet for vegetables at fast food chains, and even some family restaurant chains. Shoney's, which has more than 600 units and $680 million in sales, mostly in the South, now uses fresh broccoli in salads, slaws, etc. Frozen broccoli doesn't lend itself well to salad bars, but Page Hill of Richard A Shaw, Inc., Watsonville, Calif., noted that some restaurants, especially at hotels, are using IQF product.

"Salad chefs are getting more and more expensive at hotels," Hill said. "As an alternative to that, we can do all the sizing and trimming." Cafeteria operations such as Morrison's and Wyatt's are growing customers for frozen broccoli, he advised, but even such fast food chains as McDonald's and Burger King are testing frozen broccoli at some locations. Nearly half of Shaw's output goes to foodservice already, largely to institutions like hospitals and airlines.

But not everyone is seeing a boom in broccoli. "The only increase I see is in the variety, the higher-priced spears," said Morris Pascali of Seabrook Foods, Inc., Fresno, Calif. "I'm not sure demand overall is that much higher. It's just that the supply is so tight -- we get more inquiries due to the tightness of the product." White tablecloth restaurants are still using fresh broccoli, he believes; "It's the middle range, between white tablecloth and fast food, that wants frozen."

Jerry Urban of Martin-Brower, a major foodservice distribution firm, said the big increase is in fresh broccoli, not frozen. Some accounts, such as Red Lobster, used to serve frozen but have switched to fresh, he told QFFI. Ed Fong of J.R. Simplot Co., Boise, Idaho, maintained that, while usage of frozen broccoli has declined at white tablecloth establishments, it has increased at family restaurants and cafeterias, with overall usage up a third. Simplot is a major supplier or broccoli spears to the restaurant trade.

Broccoli has been long of the cornerstones of restaurant menus because of its good plate coverage and uniform green color, Fong observed. Moreover, he said, it is intermediately priced and, because of the availability of imports from Mexico and elsewhere, its price is relatively stable. Foodservice operators also appreciate its year-round availability. That may not seem significant for frozen broccoli, but the variety of sources available in different seasons means frozen products has to spend only 60 days in the distribution cycle, not six months. Frozen broccoli has more head and less stem, and holds up well under cooking -- it always seems fresh.

Fresh broccoli is becoming less and less convenient for restaurant operators, said Norpac's Frank Nance. He thinks the trend toward fresh a couple of years ago has reversed itself, and that frozen broccoli is now the cutting edge of the market. The problem is whether the supply, and therefore the price, will remain stable. California farmers have cut back on broccoli production and switched to other crops over the last ten years, as competition from Mexico has hurt American row crops generally. But Mexican production is erratic, he said. "If they predict a harvest of 100 million pounds, it could end up being anywhere from 25 million to 200 million."

There were reports last year that the Mexican broccoli crop had been hit by some sort of blight, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which had a mission working in Mexico in November, reported that nothing was amiss. Nobody else seems to be able to pinpoint any problems in Mexico, either. Broccoli production for export to the United States is known to be on the increase in Guatemala, where a trade group specializing in such "non-traditional" crops held an exposition at the beginning of December. However, QFFI has been unable to obtain export statistics for Guatemala, or for Uruguay, which is now shipping broccoli grown in what (for the Northern Hemisphere) is the deep of winter.

Broccoli and cauliflower imports combined (that's how the USDA reports them) were down the first half of last year, from 127.7 million pounds to 120.4 million (84% of the imports come from Mexico). One trade magazine quoted an unidentified "observer" as attributing the six percent drop to weather and insect problems. With multinational companies establishing freezer plants, especially in the Bajio region, and a peso that is depreciating against the dollar, one would expect a steady increase in imports from Mexico. But the import drop accounts in part for a 60% drop in U.S. stocks of broccoli, to 30.7 million pounds as of Nov. 1. Prices increased to the $11.10-$11.40 a case range for spears, $9.10-$9.40 for cuts and $8.25-$8.55 for chopped--up about six cents a pound on average since September.

PHOTO : Long a staple of supermarket frozen vegetables cases, broccoli is making its way onto more

PHOTO : restaurant tables as the No. 1 sidedish. And even retail packaging is beginning to reflect

PHOTO : an upscale, foodservice look as evidenced by this Birds Eye offering of Farm Fresh Whole

PHOTO : Vegetables. The General Foods subsidiary does not miss a chance to tout the individual

PHOTO : spears' high fiber content, either. The 16 oz. product retails for $1.79.
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Author:Pierce, J.J.
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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