"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.