Top U.S. restaurant chain ups seafood buying with expansion

Published on
November 25, 2015

Rubio’s Restaurants, which operates 194 Mexican restaurants, will signficinatly increase its seafood purchasing as it expands to the East Coast.

Based in San Diego, Calif., Rubio’s recently entered into an agreement with Ruby Tuesday to acquire eight Lime Fresh Mexican Grill locations. Next spring, Rubio’s will begin converting the restaurants to Rubio’s Coastal Grill restaurants. In addition, it will open between 12 and 16 new restaurants on the West Coast in 2016, according to Rubio’s Co-founder Ralph Rubio.

As Rubio’s aggressively adds new stores, “it is safe to assume though that all categories will increase on a pro-rata basis with shrimp continuing to grow a slightly higher rate than the other categories,” Rubio told SeafoodSource. In 2014-2015, Rubio’s purchased nearly USD 13 million (EUR 12.3 million) worth of seafood.

Over the last two years, the popularity of shrimp dishes – including burritos, tacos, salads and bowls – has far outpaced any other protein, according to Rubio. “Shrimp is super popular. It’s a natural alternative [to chicken] for a quick, affordable lunch where you want something tasty at a good price point.”

Rubio’s purchases more than one million pounds of 41/50s Pacific white farmed shrimp – primarily from India and Indonesia. Vernon, Calif.-based distributor Red Chamber Co. supplies the shrimp.

Salmon is another popular protein at Rubio’s, and the chain is switching from Chilean farmed salmon – after several years of using the fish – to wild Alaska coho salmon. “There is a bit of stigma around farm-raised in general,” Rubio said. “We want to strike the right balance between farm-raised and wild. Coho is deemed sustainable, and I like the texture and flavor, so that is going to be real good fit.”

Rubio’s has been sourcing farmed salmon from Multiexport Foods in Chile, buying between 200,000 and 300,000 pounds a year.

Rubio’s is also using more tilapia from Regal Springs Tilapia in fish tacos and other dishes. “It is usually priced 20 to 30 cents lower than mahi or salmon. It’s an entry level price to get more people eating grilled seafood,” Rubio said.

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