Purchasing Insiders Speak Up

Four operators share their strategies for sourcing fresh vegetables.

Ralph Kinder

Director of Franchise Development, Baker Bros.

12 locations, Dallas, Texas-based

e: Santa Fe Salad; $7.39

At least 80 percent of our menu items include some produce, so we buy a lot of vegetables. To assure freshness and quality, deliveries arrive six days a week from a regional produce company. Our vendor does a great job in sourcing from growers who are strict about food safety.

While safety is a big issue, so is the ability to source according to our specs. For our salads—which total 35 percent of our menu mix—we use case lettuce (whole heads) that we wash in an ice bath to remove debris. All our vegetables come whole, too—bell peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and mushrooms are our top buys. We clean and prep everything on site because we’d rather spend dollars on labor than convenience.

To avoid price spikes, we sign a yearly contract with our supplier for certain items, such as lettuces (green leaf, romaine and iceberg). This takes the seasonality out of pricing and helps us control food costs.

Michael Jacobs

Executive Chef, Grass

Miami, Florida

Signature: Asparagus BLT Salad; $14

Consistency of quality is my priority, so I use three purveyors to get what I want. My main vendor is Fresh Point (a division of Sysco). Not only do they supply a lot of specialty items I’ve never seen before, they send out e-mails with weather updates and crop prices and provide charts on how to place vegetables in the walk-in to optimize freshness and shelf life. I also source from an organic grower in Homestead, Florida; she sells me microgreens, mache, arugula and almost anything I ask her to grow. This small producer tags all her vegetables so they can be traced back to the field. For commodities like 4-inch tomatoes, I use a broadliner.

By contracting with three purveyors, I can juggle prices and meet my food costs—plus get the best vegetables for my fine-dining restaurant. I ask for my deliveries early in the morning—between 9:00 and noon—and we get produce in every day. This schedule is a little more expensive, but worth it.

Anne Kimball

VP Supply Chain, Forklift Brands

(Boudin and Go Roma; 12 locations together)

San Francisco, California-based

Signature: Boudin’s Chinese Chicken Salad; $6.79

Flexibility is key to getting top quality produce all year round. You have to stay on top of what’s happening in all the growing regions around the world. If there’s a weather-related problem in California, for instance, we can then source from South America. We work with several broadliners and produce distributors for our product mix and get delivery at least three times a week.

Currently, we’re purchasing about 60 percent fresh-cut vegetables from processors and my goal is to move more product this way. I feel more secure about the safety of this produce because it’s washed in chlorine in a controlled environment. We are also formally implementing a vendor and distributor quality assurance evaluation; all our suppliers will now be required to have annual third-party audits. My plan is to incorporate more on-site training programs too, complete with printed shelf-life information, inventory rotation instructions and safe handling tips.

Kathleen Valez

Director of Purchasing, Souper Salad

87 locations, San Antonio, Texas-based

Signature: Vegetable Beef Soup; part of $6.29 buffet

We use 14 different distributors to source our produce; all are managed under Produce Alliance to streamline the process. Souper Salad administers their produce spend on a weekly basis, so we negotiated a three-to-four times a week delivery schedule.
The weather is our biggest purchasing challenge. Storms, droughts, etc. all affect the quality, yields and pricing of vegetables.

Each of our distributors is required to have a third-party safety inspection done on an annual basis. And with California’s recent adoption of the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, we will soon be mandating that all our produce shippers sign on and adhere to the safety standards. More safe handling measures are followed at each restaurant location. Employees use a wash solution on all our raw vegetables and fruits; the product’s antimicrobial activity quickly removes micro-organisms without altering the taste, look or smell of the produce.

Upgrading our salad bar has been a goal this past year. We’ve recently introduced two new vegetables to our selection—purple eggplant and Brussels sprouts.

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