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Tanimura & Antle products spark up restaurant menus

by Christina DiMartino | July 27, 2010
"We continue to expand our artisan lettuce, living lettuce and artisan red onion lines," Rick Antle, chief executive officer for Tanimura & Antle Inc. in Salinas, CA, told The Produce News. “These items are well suited to foodservice because of the great creativity they offer to chefs. The artisan lettuce is a blend of Gem, Tango and Oak lettuce varieties. For foodservice, we offer them in a nine-pound pack.”

Mr. Antle explained that the artisan lettuces are fully mature, so they provide better flavor, texture and body than baby lettuces.

Tanimura & Antle's living lettuce is a Boston variety. The company grows it sustainably in an indoor hydroponic living lettuce facility in Tennessee. The company chose the site specifically because of the food miles the product travels to the Northeast, where it is very popular.

“The demand for the lettuce also began spreading from to the South and West, making Tennessee a perfect location to produce it,” said Mr. Antle. “Tennessee also offers an ideal temperature. This is a soft-leaf Boston lettuce, sold with the roots attached, which customers recognize and report back to us as having a just-picked flavor.”

For retail, the product is packed in clamshells and carries the “Tanimura & Antle Living Lettuce” label. For foodservice operators, it is packed in bags, also with the roots attached, in 12-count cartons. Mr. Antle noted that restaurants are equipped to handle paper waste, and the bags eliminate the chance that the product will dehydrate.

Artisan red onions are the only onion type the company sells. Mr. Antle said that the onions are perfectly suited for salads, sandwiches and other food preparations. Shipped in season from McAllen TX, Yuma AZ, Salinas, CA, and Hollister, CA, the onions are available year round and are always sold fresh. They are a proprietary onion variety that is originally from Italy. The onions are hand-harvested for consistent quality and less shrink.

“We offer these in multiple packs for restaurants,” said Mr. Antle. “Foodservice operators who are looking for color and diversity will want to include these onions in their menu items.”

Tanimura & Antle offers over 40 diverse commodities in its specialty vegetable program, many of which are packed under the “Tanimura & Antle” label. The company distributes across the United States and into Canada, and it does some offshore exporting. Its foodservice customers span the full range, from high-end restaurants to quick-serve establishments. It also services industrial foodservice operations such as hospitals and schools.

Mr. Antle said that the company has not felt a drop in foodservice sales throughout the economic downturn of the last couple of years.

“We’ve actually seen additional movement in family dining, mid-range restaurants,” he said. “Because our customer base is so wide, we find that when one category drops off, another increases. We also service club stores, which are holding very well in the current economy.”

Mr. Antle said that the company has witnessed numerous trends over the past decade, but at the end of the day, they all boil down to one thing: eating well.

“We’ve seen organics, sustainability, locally grown, food networks, slow food and many other movements,” he said. “In the end, people will live within their means, but they’ll continue to eat well. Cooking shows are teaching people that it’s not difficult or expensive to enjoy a gourmet meal, even if they have to make it at home. People are looking to add that one exciting ingredient that makes a dish special. Artisan onions and lettuces fit in that category perfectly. It’s the subtle things that sometimes make the biggest difference. It just isn’t a day without lettuce, and even gourmet burger establishments want items like living lettuce to make their burgers special.”

Tanimura & Antle has always recognized the locally grown movement as important, he said. The company adjusts its plantings in summer months because products from other areas are in production.

“Still, there is nothing like California lettuce,” he said. “This time of year, it’s great to eat a piece of watermelon, sweet corn or a tomato that is produced somewhere else in the country, but if you want great lettuce, you have to buy it from California.”

Mr. Antle noted that his brother, Mike Antle, who has worked in the company’s harvesting operation in the past, is now working with their father, Bob Antle, in sales.

Tanimura & Antle will exhibit its full line of fresh produce at the Produce Marketing Association’s Foodservice Conference & Exposition, set for July 30 to Aug. 1 in Monterey, CA, at booth No. 13.