Restaurants with Asian and Hispanic themes also drive sales, marketers say.
“All the Hispanic demographics eat a lot of different things, and that has exposed a lot of different people and cultures with the restaurant segment,” said Mark Vertrees, marketing director at Miami-based M&M Farms Inc.
“There are a lot of Hispanic restaurants and a lot of these small restaurants are requesting these items of their buyers like Sysco and U.S. Foodservice,” he said. “They might not be familiar with these products, but they’ll go to somebody like M&M and want them to educate them on the product and help them sell more of the product.”
Specialty products are a natural fit for ethnic restaurants, said Robert Schueller, spokesman for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce, which markets products under the Melissa’s brand.
“They’re talking about the growth of the Latin category of restaurants and more defined Asian cooking,” he said. “Seeing that the tropicals fit in with these restaurants, the chefs are really looking for something spectacular.”
The clienteles of some restaurants have come to expect new and different items, said Hazel Kelly, communications manager with San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based Frieda’s Inc.
“Consumers have come to expect it from high-end restaurants — something special and unique on menus,” she said. “And, now, we’re seeing it happening at chains, as well.”
Aesthetics also enhance restaurants’ attraction to specialties, said Mary Ostlund, marketing director at Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals LLC.
“Foodservice is interesting; they really want something year-round, and they love starfruit because it’s such an eye-catcher,” she said. “They’re showing they can deliver tropical tastes. So, it’s a big coup to be able to use starfruit like that.”