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    The Fruit Solution

  • More quick-serve companies are using fruit to appeal to customers’ desires for fresh, healthy options.

    Gorrell works with quick-service restaurants and suppliers to determine the best way for the mangos to arrive in stores. “You can buy them ripe-ready, fresh, pre-cut, or whole,” Gorrell says. “Or quick-service restaurants can simply buy the cheeks without the seed at the center, so they can slice or dice it according to their need.”

    When a restaurant finds a fresh fruit that fits well with its brand, the results can be a win-win for suppliers and operators. The Mango and Shrimp Salad was initially offered for three months at the beginning of this year, but it was so successful that Daphne’s extended its availability for an additional three months through the end of the summer. “We hope that it will turn into a long-term menu application or a recurring seasonal application,” Gorrell says.

    When it comes to a quick-service restaurant constantly introducing new fresh fruits to its customers, Pinkberry is an industry leader. The frozen yogurt chain offers an average of eight fresh-fruit toppings at any given time in each of its retail outlets, with four to eight new fresh-fruit toppings being switched in annually.

    Some fruits are only available in a single region. When Pinkberry recently opened in Peru, the advance team discovered the lucuma, a native fruit with a flavor similar to pumpkin. The local operators use it as a flavoring agent for an exclusive yogurt, and also include fruit toppings like strawberries, pineapple, and bananas. “We pride ourselves in being the curators of fruit,” says Pinkberry’s senior vice president of marketing and design, Laura Jakobsen. “While many people are mainstream with their fruit, we also want to create the excitement of discovery by bringing people to fruits for the first time.”

    Pinkberry’s topping bar

    “One of our values is uncompromising quality and we will not compromise on the quality of the fruit,” says Pinkberry CEO Ron Graves. “We look for the best fruit in season that’s at the perfect ripeness. Even if it’s in season, you can have fruit that’s too ripe or not ripe enough, which can have an impact on the quality.”

    “Freshness is our business,” Jakobsen says. “Our topping bar is our customization and our customer delight factor.”

    In order to accommodate all 175 stores located in 17 countries, Pinkberry relies on an international network of fruit suppliers. Depending on location, season, and availability, an outlet will receive a mixture of locally, domestically, and internationally sourced fruit. “We aren’t committed to an inflexible supply chain system,” Jakobsen says. “There are guardrails and parameters that stay consistent, but there’s flexibility so we can accommodate the sourcing of local fruit. We want to make sure that there’s a short chain between when we source it and when it’s available in store.”

    Whole fresh fruit arrives daily at locations. “It’s never frozen, never in syrup,” Graves says.

    Topping specialists travel to each new outlet to train employees how to properly cut the different fruits. “It all ultimately looks like little jewels,” Graves says. “They’re not randomly cut.” Once it’s prepped, the staff constantly monitors the fruit to ensure that it is only available for use during its peak freshness.

    Maintaining fresh flavor is a core philosophy for Evolution Fresh. This quick-service restaurant with a focus on fresh juices and smoothies launched its first location in Seattle in the middle of March. It has an eye to expand exponentially after it has perfected its operations. And as far as setting up sourcing and supplying practices, it has a not-so-minor factor in its favor: it’s owned by Starbucks.

    “Leveraging those relationships, we have the opportunity to call on any area of expertise possible,” says Arthur Rubinfeld, the company’s president of global development. “We’re drawing on their expertise in operations, product quality awareness, and driving into [consumer packaged goods].”

    The company has a unique process that sets it apart from other juice-focused operations. “The main point of differentiation for us is that our juices are cold pressed, processed under pressure, and never heated,” Rubinfeld says. “So nutrients and enzymes are retained.”

    For the juices dispensed from the patent-pending digital juice tap wall, the company has created a system to ensure maximum freshness: Fruit is processed into juice at facilities located right next to the farms where the fruit is grown. For example, its orange juice processing plant is in San Bernardino, California, next to the orchard that supplies the company. This cuts down on transportation costs and allows Evolution Fresh to ship the juice directly from this facility to its Seattle store. As the company expands beyond its flagship location, the sourcing will become exponentially more complicated, which is why Rubinfeld wants the company to grow at a reasonable rate to ensure a consistent level of quality across all its outlets.

    Evolution Fresh is hoping to cut out a big slice of emerging sectors where fresh fruit is a key component. “The super premium juice business today is about a $1.6 billion industry,” Rubinfeld says. “The premium juice business is about $3.5 billion and health and wellness is about $50 billion, and that has been growing exponentially over the last few years.”

    The overall fresh-fruit industry represents an even larger target market for quick-service operators. According to a study by the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans are now eating more fresh fruit than ever. Tracking between 1980 and 2009, research showed that the average consumer went from eating 106.2 pounds of fresh fruit annually to 127.5 pounds annually.

    “The world is getting healthier and people want fresher foods,” Graves says. “That’s always a good thing.”

    It looks like diners have a growing appetite for more than just an apple a day.