School foodservice demand grows for citrus

Mandarins were certainly on the menu in homes across the United States, but also finding their way into school lunch programs.

In Edinburg, TX, nestled in the heart of Texas citrus country, school business is a mainstay for Nicho Produce Company, Inc.

Founded in 1969 by Dionicio “Nicho” Villareal, the full-line wholesaler and processor serves the needs of businesses throughout southern Texas. Dionicio’s son, Tommy Villareal, currently serves as president.

Villareal confirms that the citrus business is thriving in schools. The company has gravitated over time to this important sector. Catering to all 15 districts in the Rio Grande Valley, Nicho supplies a number of fresh fruit and vegetable offerings.

Its leading citrus selections are oranges, tangerines, and mandarins, in that order. Since opening its Fresh Cuts division in 2005, Nicho has been able to fill a wide range of consumer preferences.

For schools, oranges are processed and packaged in ready-to-serve three-ounce containers. Mandarins, shipped whole, are a perennial favorite among students, as are blood oranges.

Referring to the latter, Villareal notes kids are often surprised but delighted by the fruit: “They just love seeing that red flesh.”

Over the years, Villareal explains, demand for these particular citrus fruits has continued to grow.

“The bigger problem is supply; it’s always hard [in the fall], the beginning of the school year, to get enough fruit.”

As a result, Nicho Produce was sourcing from California to meet demand due to a lack of supply in Texas due to rain during the growing season.

In addition to weather-related supply challenges, Villareal also cites the systemic issues plaguing much of the fresh produce industry: “staffing, keeping enough delivery drivers, and keeping up with all the regulatory changes.”

This is an excerpt from the most recent Produce Blueprints quarterly journal. Click here to read the full article.