April 19, 2006 | By: Terri McLean
LEXINGTON, KY.

When it comes to eating out, Kentuckians’ tastes are as varied as the restaurants that serve them. But the chefs who cater to those tastes say their clients have at least one thing in common: a hankering for locally grown fruits and vegetables.

In the 2006 Restaurant Produce Buyer Survey conducted by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, an overwhelming 90 percent of the chefs who responded said their clients want fresh produce on the menu. Fifty-four percent said they advertise their menu as including locally grown produce.

“They know their clients and they know their clients value that kind of thing,” said Tim Woods, associate professor of agricultural economics at UK. “These chefs, particularly with the white tablecloth, fine dining types of establishments, really place a premium on super high-quality, fresh products.”

Woods and UK colleagues Matt Ernst and Jeffrey Herrington sent the survey to 275 restaurants throughout the state to explore demand for locally produced products. They paid particular attention to measuring interest in specific crops and identifying the restaurants’ needs.                

While only 23 percent responded to the survey, Woods said it was “enough to get a really good handle on what they’re looking for.”

“There are lots and lots of products that these folks want,” Woods said. “They are the highly demanded kinds of products, fruits and vegetables – and herbs.”

The survey focused on crops identified by the college’s New Crop Opportunities Center as those that can be grown in Kentucky. Out of a list of 14 vegetables, 16 herbs and 12 fruits, the chefs were asked to pick those that they would be “interested” or “very interested” in purchasing from a local farmer for use in their restaurants.

In the vegetable category, there were no real surprises, Woods said. Tomatoes – particularly Heirloom tomatoes – are in high demand, with 87 percent of respondents indicating interest in buying them locally. Bell peppers also appear to be much sought after, with 84 percent showing interest, as do a variety of greens, with 79 percent interested.

Basil, garlic and chives are the herbs most demanded by Kentucky chefs, the survey showed.

“Herbs are relatively easy to grow, and many restaurants are interested in purchasing fresh herbs from growers,” Woods and his colleagues concluded.

The most popular fruit crops for restaurants are blackberries, grapes, apples and blueberries. But the chefs surveyed also appear to be interested in more specialty fruits, especially raspberries, gooseberries and currants, Woods said.

In addition to identifying the most sought-after fruits, vegetables and herbs, the survey asked the chefs to rank the business functions on which local growers need to focus. Uniform quality and consistent availability “in season” emerged as the two most important.

“A lot of our farmers have either sold in farmers’ market programs or maybe wholesale through a cooperative, but this selling into the food service channel is new to them,” Woods said. “We’re trying to help farmers get familiar with what’s involved.”

Woods is sharing the survey’s results with farmers across the state. His goal is to bring the farmers and restaurants together to “work out the logistics of bringing in a regular supply of high-quality products.”

“It’s fitting all the pieces of the chain together to make it a winning deal from the customer all the way back to the farmer,” he said.

Farmers interested in finding out more about the survey’s results can contact Woods by e-mail at tawoods@uky.edu.

 

Contact: 

Tim Woods, (859) 257-7270