DOVER, Fla. — Despite retailers overwhelmingly being the dominant buyers of Florida strawberries, foodservice customers remain a factor in the deal.

Grower-shippers say they know the segment buys Florida berries but say they can’t cite an increased demand compared to the past.

Foodservice sales consistent for FloridaMark Greeff, vice president and general manager of the Eastern region for Watsonville, Calif.-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., characterizes foodservice demand as favorable.

“Foodservice demand is pretty good,” he said. “You’re seeing berries in a lot of foodservice now. Foodservice use of berries is expanding, and with the improvement in the economy, you will see more and more uptake in higher-value items like strawberries.”

Foodservice demand remains consistent and accounts for about 25% of sales for Salinas, Calif.-based Colorful Harvest LLC, which grows and ships from Plant City.

“One thing about foodservice, if you get a foodservice distributor, they pull five pallets a week,” said Jeremy Burris, vice president of sales and sourcing for the Florida division.

“Those restaurants seem to pull the same amount every week. There’s not much variance in their pull.

Because 50% of U.S. food dollars are spent in restaurants, you’d think the foodservice industry would be a good one to be in.”

Foodservice sales account for about 20% of strawberry sales for C&D Fruit & Vegetable Co. Inc., in Bradenton.

“It will expand,” president Tom O’Brien said. “Berries are becoming a bigger market in foodservice. It’s a demand item out there.

“I just did a talk with Sysco on locally grown. The chefs, they all want Florida berries and want to feature local products on their menus.”

About 10% of the berries shipped by Gulf Coast Produce Inc., go to foodservice channels, said Steve Machell, sales manager.

“Foodservice is an excellent business,” he said. “We have had more conversations with foodservice buyers in the past two years.

“Foodservice is growing as a percentage of our business as we’re looking to see more come our way. They’re doing a good job, and they’re more supportive of the marketplace,” Machell said.

“Their f.o.b.s are more in line with retail f.o.b.s vs. going to Philadelphia of New York on an open-market basis,” he said.

Crop timing is one reason foodservice isn’t a bigger factor in Florida’s deal, said Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer of Plant City-based Wish Farms.

“One thing about the Florida crop that’s different from California is the peaks of the season,” he said.

“California is a little more steady production while Florida has more spikes in production. It’s more important to focus on retailers because they can move the additional volumes when we do hit those peaks.”

Foodservice demand remains more consistent and is a good business, but the segment isn’t able to react as quickly to supply changes, Wishnatzki said.

Few of the berries sold by Astin Strawberry Exchange LLC in Plant City are shipped to foodservice purveyors, salesman Shawn Pollard said.

“We may see more interest from foodservice,” he said.

“The problem with the foodservice is they don’t have a lot of spikes. When we need to move tonnage, it seems their volume is consistent,” he said.

“There are times when our volume is heavy, we need to have retailers help us move surplus product when we have those big volume spikes,” Pollard said.

“The foodservice industry doesn’t seem to have the ability to react to that.

“It’s a more stable and more consistent type of business that’s not good business (for us), or we’d entertain it.”