Consumer demand for high-quality produce year-round drives innovative menu options beyond seasonality.

Sponsored by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

Chefs live by seasonality to ensure produce is served at its peak and create the best possible menu offerings. Even though natural seasons can help ensure product freshness, it’s no secret that recent technology makes it possible for chefs to work beyond seasonal borders without suffering quality loss. One of the biggest factors influencing the reluctance of foodservice professionals to offer out-of-season products, however, has been consumer appeal. Will customers want a summer item in the late fall or even winter? As it turns out, many do. Though some fear that consumers won’t want produce, such as blueberries, outside of summer, many concepts still find success in offering the fruit year-round.

Take Po’Boys Sandwich Shop in Fort Myers, Florida, for example. The brand’s Blueberry Bronuts are in high demand by consumers regardless of season. Using individually quick frozen (IQF) blueberries, the restaurant can use the fruit year-round without any loss of flavor or color, ensuring that customers are never disappointed.

“I’ve tried just about every IQF frozen fruit form,” says Chef Cory Hatcher. “Blueberries hold up better than a lot of other fruit. Not to knock them, but other berries may change color, and bananas brown. And even when we tried other Bronut flavors, our customers always dictated that we go back to blueberries.”

And it’s not just the Bronuts—Po’Boys customers also enjoy biscuits served with peanut butter mousse and blueberry jam, as well as blueberry barbecue sauce, regardless of time of year.

“There is a misconception that everything has to be fresh all the time,” Hatcher says. “Of course we don’t advertise that the blueberries are frozen, but even when they are out of season, people don’t really know that they are. Blueberries just pair well with everything, are easy to use, and our customers love them.”

Hatcher says that IQF blueberries also offer productivity benefits. Not only do they retain quality, but they are also easy to use in big batches and hold up well to heat. He also recommends using them in compotes, jams, and sauces that can be added to other dishes to create new variants.

Blaze Pizza has also seen success from offering blueberry dishes out of season. Its Blueberry Hibiscus Agua Fresca is served year round. One reason for the beverage’s popularity might be that blueberries offer antioxidants, which an increasingly health-conscious public could find appealing, says Brad Kent, executive chef and cofounder of the brand, as well as Olio Wood-Fired Pizzeria. With fewer calories than many sweetened beverages, Kent says blueberry’s health halo paired with hibiscus tea and cane-sweetened fresca is a great alternative to sodas.

Additionally, IQF blueberries retain their same vivid color year-round, which can attract more customers.

“People are interested in colored beverages, and most fruit beverages you see are red,” Kent says. “We recently switched from paper cups to plant-based clear plastic cups so that customers can see the purple-blue color of this beverage, as well as the colors of our other offerings.”

The beverage features a frozen blueberry puree that is not only acidic and flavorful, but it also helps the brand serve the beverage across its 200 locations with consistency. Because the berries are harvested at peak freshness before freezing, all stores are able to deliver on the same high quality standards.

“We want people to have the same experience whether they are in California or Massachusetts,” Kent says. “It’s also helpful that frozen blueberries are easy to measure by volume, so that you can order one whole bag and portion them.”

Though seasonality may be a chief concern for some restaurants, it may be time to reconsider these designations. Not only do frozen blueberries appeal to customers year round, they also offer many important benefits that kitchens can’t find with other ingredients.

“Blueberries add beautiful color, and they have a nice thickening property and functional benefits besides being delicious,” Kent says. “It’s a familiar flavor, well-liked, and underused compared to red berries. And they do have that beautiful color you don’t find in any other food.”

By Peggy Carouthers

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