Sid Wainer & Son, an 86-year-old company in New Bedford, Mass that sells imported and other specialty foods, saw business skyrocket in the roaring 1990s and projects $100 million in sales this year.
Company president Henry Wainer travels to Europe and elsewhere for top-end produce and foods and finds American restaurants and consumers more than willing to pay a premium for the products.
“When the economy’s strong, people want the best for a specials occasion,” he said.
Marinated long-stemmed artichokes, smoked salmon from the Shetland Islands, roasted yellow tomatoes, caviar - all are big sellers in high-living times.
“Caviar’s as hot at it’s ever been.” Enthused Wainer. “It’s really catching on.”
Americans also are paying more for goat cheese, which costs 30 percent to 40 percent more than cheeses made from cows’ milk. Few products are too upscale these days for the flourishing restaurant business.
Caviar, shrimp burgers and extra virgin olive oil imported from Tuscany are among the hot items being showcased at the association’s annual trade show.
It’s an indication that foods once considered exotic are thriving as Americans eat more creatively and more expensively. Americans are also dining out in record numbers and spending an astonishing $1 billion a day in restaurants. The industry is expected to generate $376 billion in sales this year, up 5 percent from 1999, according to the National Restaurant Association.
What the industry describes as “white tablecloth” restaurants - with average tabs running $25 per person and up - are the fastest growing part of the business, with total sales expected to increase 6 percent this year.
Casual dining is sharply on the rise, too, as are takeout orders and purchases of prepared meals from groceries and supermarkets.