Patrick Burke, sales and purchasing representative for Garden Fresh Salad Co. Inc., located on the New England Produce Center in Chelsea, MA, told The Produce News that the company handles a full line of vegetables and that fruits represent about 10 percent of the company’s business.
“We specialize in California vegetables, and we handle a full line of value-added prepared products for restaurants, caterers and retailers,” said Mr. Burke. “We have a processing plant here in Boston where we handle pretty much every type of vegetable. The foodservice sector represents the largest customer base for our processed product. We’ve been processing one type of product or another for over 40 years.”
Mr. Burke said that the company’s foodservice business has remained steady and consistent despite the downed economy during the past few years.
“We didn’t feel a big drop,” he said. “What we have noticed is that people are more choosy about the product they get today in that they want consistently high quality. In years past, people would be willing to take product that was less than perfect if you had a deal to offer them. But that’s not the case today; they just don’t want to handle less than top-quality produce.”
Restaurants also want consistent product today so that the menu items they serve always look the same.
Mr. Burke added that of all fresh produce categories, the recession has probably affected specialty produce more than any other. It’s easier, he noted, for retailers and foodservice operators alike to cut out a $50 box of a specialty item than a box of a commodity that is always needed.
“The nuts and bolts of the produce business continue to do well,” he said. “We don’t see a huge demand for organic produce either. Although our processing facility is certified to handle organics, the demand is very small.”
Garden Fresh Salad Co. distributes to customers from New York throughout New England and even into Canada. Its primary customers are wholesalers who sell direct to retailers and foodservice operators. The company also services retail chains and some one- and two-store independent retailers. Mr. Burke said that it does consistent business with small chain retailers.
The company is a family-owned business. Izzy D’Alleva, the founder and president, continues to be active in it today, although the next generation now is overseeing company operations. His son, Lou D’Alleva, and John Whitney also are involved in operating the company. Mr. Whitney’s wife, Rita, and Mr. Burke’s wife, Lisa, also work in the company.
The company handles locally grown produce when it is in season, but Mr. Burke said that the New England growing season is short.
“We’re carrying local apples currently, as well as fall vegetables and winter squashes,” he said. “We just don’t get a lot of locally grown product in the winter. California is now going through its normal transition from the Salinas region to the desert. As Florida starts moving product, we’ll also be sourcing from there.
“Overall, things have been steady,” he said, “and we’re grateful for that.”