Fresh-cut Opportunities in Catering

May 14, 2010

Fresh-cut Opportunities in Catering

Fresh Cut

February 2005

If Brett Lewis, corporate executive chef for Centerplate, is correct, there are significant opportunities ahead for fresh-cut fruits and vegetables in North America’s booming catering business.

Catering is one of the fastest growth areas in foodservice, second only to restaurants, according to Kerry Stackpole, Columbia, Md., executive director of the National Association of Catering Executives. Annual sales are estimated at $19 billion. This figure includes all kinds of catering services, from hotels and restaurants to ball parks, weddings and other special occasions.

With more than 125 client accounts and revenues over $600 million at the end of 2003, Centerplate, based in Spartanburg, S.C., is one of North America’s leading providers of food and catering services for sports, convention and entertainment venues.

Since 1973, Centerplate has been serving professional and collegiate sports facilities, convention and civic centers, indoor arenas, outdoor amphitheaters, theme parks and a variety of other entertainment, sports and meeting venues. The company services both major and minor league baseball teams, including the Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and New York Yankees. Centerplate also is one of the largest providers of foodservice to National Football League stadiums.

Importance of Pre-cut
Pre-cut vegetables play an important role in Centerplate’s catering programs, which vary from client to client, according to Lewis. Fresh-cut vegetables are served in suites and luxury boxes as part of the company’s vegetable crudités program. The most popular vegetable selections are carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, cleaned and trimmed green onions and, on occasion, zucchini and yellow squash.

Labor, today, is “a huge and growing issue,” the corporate executive chef notes. The foodservice industry is always looking for ways to maximize efficiency. Offering both improved consistency and time saving, fresh, pre-cut produce is viewed as a cost-effective alternative.
There are both “pluses and minuses” to machine-cut produce, Lewis feels. Some fruits and vegetables cut well; others do not.

“With onions and peppers, one of the greatest challenges we deal with is getting the proper julienne cut,” he points out. “Machines do a quick job but are not very efficient in producing an artistic cut. With the traditional julienne cut, the end result varies from vegetable to vegetable. The cut may be a bit wider or thicker—not quite what it should be. Machines have difficulty reading the twists and turns sometimes present in vegetables such as onions and peppers.”

Like many other chefs, Lewis says he would prefer to cut everything by hand but realizes that in today’s world “that’s no longer possible.”
As a chef for Centerplate, Lewis knows that timing is critical because the quality of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables begins to diminish quickly.

“Packaging flexibility is critical because our customers often have different needs,” he says. “We’re also interested in a consistent look. We are not inclined to buy a product that has been poorly cut.”

All pre-cut produce utilized by Centerplate comes through a distribution model that combines ProAct, a cooperative produce purchasing group, and Sysco Foods, Centerplate’s broadline partner. Through this arrangement Centerplate can monitor quality and price for its various client and location needs. By using this type of controlled distribution, Centerplate can deliver a consistent product throughout the country. If you are interested in learning more about product opportunities within Centerplate, contact Paul Daly, VP/Purchasing at paul.daly@centerplate.com.

© 2005 Columbia Publishing