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Increase in demand for foodservice side of organic produce

Once organics like kale came into fashion, there was a dramatic increase and expansion in the demand for organic produce. The retail market has always been present as consumers increasingly changed their buying patterns but things are shifting in foodservice. Consumers on the business end are now requesting more organic produce in general.

Consumers driving increase in organic for foodservice
The change, says Devan Backstrom of Charlie’s Produce, is coming from corporate leaders that are consumers at the grocery store. They wonder why they haven’t been offering organic food within their business. A longtime customer of Charlie’s, a corporate catering chef, remarks that people are in his café sometimes twice a day every week: he’s feeding them the majority of their meals. “I can either feed them unhealthy food and their productivity goes down or I can feed them healthy things and their productivity and health goes up so it’s better for the success of the company,” she recounts. “They’re (companies) looking for their employees to eat healthier and the chefs that are understanding the power that they have.” 

Charlie’s Produce has its own all organic label called Farmer’s Own. Over 140 fruits and vegetables are packed and shipped nation-wide from partner growers, which include about seven varieties of potatoes, red, yellow and white onions, Walla Walla onions, apples, sweet potatoes, and yams. Backstrom says what’s guiding organics is the awareness of conventional growing practice. The majority of their growers are in the northwest where the Farmer’s Own brand started but as Charlie’s Produce’s locations have expanded, so have the locations of their grower partners. All growers are within a day’s drive from our DC’s (distribution centers). 

Opportunities for smaller farms to branch out
A good partner grower would be someone looking to expand their markets, wanting to make the jump from farmer’s market/CSA consumer to the wholesale community. “Also quality and their farming practices are important,” she says. Most have been producing for the Farmer’s Own brand for 20 to 25 years. “As overall demand for organic produce increases by the mainstream consumer, retailers and foodservice entities are transitioning more and more of their selections to organic produce.”

All items are currently in good supply and Backstrom says they expand every year and work towards matching growth based on trends. “Kale used to be used for crop rotation, but now it IS the rotation and demand always exceeds supplies,” she says. Following food trends is also important when communicating with growers. “We’re helping them make the transition so they grow to meet demands or likewise if things are fading out.”

For more information:
Devan Backstrom
Charlie’s Produce
Ph: 206.577.9796

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