How to Sell Produce to a Chef/Part II

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the Menu

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the MenuIn‭ ‬my last column‭, ‬I provided recommendations for selling produce to chefs in independent restaurants or small chains‭. ‬In this column‭, ‬I focus on the needs of larger operations‭, ‬which have somewhat different needs‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬many focused on the delicate balance of controlling both food costs and labor costs‭. ‬Insights for this column are based on interviews with members of The Culinary Institute of America Healthy Menus R&D Collaborative‭, ‬including chefs from both large restaurant chains and large contract operations‭.‬

There are two themes that run through all the comments I received‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬communication and collaboration‭. ‬If you work for a large grower/shipper/packer or distributor and you want to develop a long-term sales relationship with a big foodservice company‭, ‬you first need to develop a relationship based on insights into both the common and unique needs of your customer‭. ‬

Food Safety Comes First‭:‬‭ ‬So‭, ‬what is on the minds and wish lists of chefs‭? ‬At the top of everyone’s list is learning about innovations in food safety‭. ‬What new technologies are you using for additional kill steps‭? ‬What value-added processing can you do that will enhance food safety while also maintaining food quality‭?‬

Protecting and Enhancing Produce Quality‭:‬‭ ‬While many chefs talked about wanting extended shelf-life‭, ‬some were also interested in enhancing product quality within the same shelf-life‭. ‬Can the crispness of lettuce be maintained better through packaging technology‭? ‬Can pre-sliced tomatoes be packed‭ ‬in a way to improve the final flavor and overall sensory experience‭?‬

Add Value‭, ‬Save on Labor‭:‬‭ ‬Many went on to talk about their interest in value-added products that further reduce labor demands‭. ‬Can you provide Romaine lettuce with the ribs and outer leaves removed‭? ‬Can you provide fresh-cut vegetable blends in bowls with removable‭, ‬reusable lids‭ ‬for smaller units‭? ‬Can we partner to develop new products that will meet my needs‭?‬

Inferior Quality Is Sometimes OK‭:‬‭ ‬Another common request focused the ability of foodservice operators to turn imperfect produce into incredible ingredients‭. ‬One‭ ‬chef asked‭, ‬“Can I get access to cases of tomatoes that are too ripe to use fresh‭, ‬but that I could turn into tomato sauce‭, ‬at a great price‭?‬”‭ ‬Another chef quipped‭, ‬“I don’t care what the fruit looks like if we’re going to use it in our smoothie or juice business‭. ‬I just care what it tastes like‭.‬”

Local Sourcing and Marketing‭:‬‭ ‬Chefs who talked about local sourcing also talked about a desire to partner with suppliers to highlight local growers‭. ‬“I’d love to have videos of the farms and farmers to share with our team members‭, ‬as well as the people who dine with us‭.‬”‭ ‬Another said‭, ‬“I’d love to partner with local growers who have ugly produce that we could use at a fair price‭. ‬Looks don’t matter‭. ‬We want great flavor‭, ‬and we want to support local growers‭, ‬but only when it makes sense for our operations‭.‬”

Ongoing conversations with your customers can reveal what’s working well, and more importantly, what’s not working well in their operation.

Limited-Time Offers‭:‬‭ ‬While year-round‭, ‬consistent supply is a top priority for most operators‭, ‬some want to explore partnerships focused on LTOs‭ (‬limited-time offers‭) ‬and promotions of menu items that create excitement and drive purchase intent for many operations‭. ‬Do you have a produce item that’s only available for a few weeks each year‭? ‬Think about offering it to a foodservice partner who can create an LTO that matches‭ ‬your supply window‭.‬

Packaging and Pack Size‭:‬‭ ‬Another common request focused on pack size and the ability to split cases or specify a certain pack size without a significant‭ ‬price increase‭. ‬

Bring insights and information‭.‬‭ ‬Does your company pay for consumer market research‭? ‬If so‭, ‬are you sharing with your customers and potential customers‭? ‬While all big foodservice operations have marketing departments tracking trends‭, ‬you may have information a chef’s marketing colleagues haven’t identified as a menu opportunity‭. ‬Bring your insights into your sales meetings‭; ‬better yet‭, ‬bring a chef with you who can translate trends into menu concepts‭. ‬Many chefs in large foodservice operations have very small R&D teams‭. ‬

Things That Drive Chefs Crazy‭:‬‭ ‬Nearly every chef talked about things that drive him/her crazy‭, ‬including stickers on fresh fruit‭. ‬“Why can’t I get cases of fruit packed for foodservice‭? ‬I don’t want stickers that my team members peel off‭.‬”‭ ‬Another chef talked about the fact that his baby field greens mix contains iceberg lettuce‭. ‬“Iceberg is not a baby field green‭. ‬Get it out of there‭.‬”‭ ‬One final rant focused on hearts of Romaine‭. ‬“We pay a premium for hearts‭; ‬why do we have to remove the outer leaves‭?‬”

On-going conversations with your customers can reveal what’s working well‭, ‬and more importantly‭, ‬what’s not working well in their operation‭. ‬Responding quickly to customer challenges is a critical part of a long-term relationship‭ ‬that will help make both of your businesses more successful‭.‬

Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND is a farmer’s daughter from North Dakota, award-winning dietitian, culinary nutrition expert, and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, Inc. Learn more about her business at Follow her insights on food and flavor issues on Twitter @AmyMyrdalMiller.