White-tablecloth and other high-end restaurants embraced organics long ago. Now, marketers of organic fruits and vegetables say they are finding wider acceptance of the product in a broader spectrum across the foodservice sector.

“Lately, we’re seeing more snacking and tasting menus, and unique food pairings. Organics lend themselves neatly to these applications,” said Rachel Pagano, organic category manager with Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.

She also said celebrity chefs and television programs continue to promote and feature local organic growers, as well.

The product’s multi-pronged sustainability message carries considerable weight with eat-out diners, Pagano said.

“Acknowledging that consumers are paying more attention than ever to where their food comes from, we are seeing restaurants at all levels tell their sustainability stories,” she said.

The connection between chefs and growers is important, said Gwen Kvavli Gulliksen, sales and marketing director for Harvest Sensations, Los Angeles.

“They like to know who grows their food — relationships are very important to chefs and consumers — and the produce simply tastes better,” said Gulliksen, who also is a professional chef.

If it’s organic and in season, it’s even more appealing, Gulliksen added.

“Chefs love seasonal produce, especially, because it’s at its peak for flavor,” she said.

The numbers support Pagano’s and Gulliksen’s claims, said Christine Bushway, executive director and chief executive officer of the Brattleboro, Vt.-based Organic Trade Association.

Bushway cited the OTA’s current Organic Industry Survey that includes the following statistic: Companies producing organic packaged and prepared foods for foodservice and delis reported $173 million in sales in 2011, up 6.5% from 2010.

Chef’s perspective

Organics bring an upscale quality to menu offerings, said Andre Natera, executive chef of the Dallas-based Pyramid Restaurant & Bar.

“I’m assuming it’s a qualitative difference from the type of produce that make the colors just a bit more vibrant,” Natera said.

There is a down side, which is cost, he said.

The premium, though, is not preventing the category from attracting attention in the foodservice sector, said chef Frank Randazzo, co-owner of Miami-based Creative Tastes Catering & Event Production.

“It’s kind of up there in the world of gluten-free and lactose-free, where it’s becoming relevant,” he said.

If a supplier can ship organic product year-round, organic sales will rise, said Tom Deardorff, president of Oxnard, Calif.-based Deardorff Family Farms.

“There’s consumer demand for it and there’s potential for huge growth, but I don’t think there are supply-chain logistics in place to meet that demand yet,” he said.