HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Though retailers and wholesalers represent the largest buying segments of Florida avocados, foodservice is showing promise.

Shipments to foodservice distributors remain small but grower-shippers say it’s a growing sector.

“I am seeing more restaurants outside of Florida using Florida avocados,” said Eddie Caram, general manager of New Limeco LLC in Princeton. “People are using them in their guacamole as well. I see more demand. There is increased diversity throughout the East Coast that has also helped lift demand.”

He said he sees foodservice demand increasing.

Foodservice sales fall into the wholesale segment, which represents about half of New Limeco’s sales, Caram said.

Foodservice sales are on the rise for M&M Farm Inc., Miami, said Manny Hevia Jr., president and chief executive officer.

“We are increasing sales to foodservice distributors,” he said. “Foodservice is expanding. Locally, I do see more usage here because there are more Columbian and Venezuelan stores popping up. They eat a lot of our green skins, the ones they know from back home, so it’s expanding locally.”

As individual grower-shippers could experience challenges sending 50 cartons to somewhere like Pensacola, Hevia said he is amazed how companies such as FreshPoint Inc., a subsidiary of Houston-based Sysco Corp., can distribute product to customers throughout the U.S.

About 75% of M&M’s avocado sales ship to wholesale and foodservice customers.

The foodservice segment remains a potential market and Charles Diaz, director of sales for Unity Groves Corp., said he sees foodservice demand increasing.

“I see foodservice demand going in a very positive way,” he said. “I think the hass avocado will always have the front stage when it comes to guacamole. However, look at Florida and how the smoother green-skinned fruit is used in salads and how use of it as a food additive in the restaurant industry is huge. The future of Florida fruit is really in foodservice and as an item for salads, as side dishes or salad toppers.”

Foodservice isn’t a significant market for Florida avocados, said Alvaro Perpuly, general manager and partner of Fresh King Inc.,

“I don’t think the industry has much of a market share in foodservice,” he said. “Foodservice is really tough to convert to Florida avocados. They are more focused on the hass avocado.”

That could change, however, once foodservice operators realize that Florida fruit is a less-expensive option for guacamole and salads, Perpuly said.

Florida avocados are appearing more on cruise ships, said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for Brooks Tropicals Inc.

As cruise ships played a role in popularizing papaya, another major product of Brooks, the segment could help boost Florida avocado sales, she said.

Every year, Brooks participates in a dinner festival at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando.

The event highlights fruits with stories behind it, including Florida avocados, Ostlund said.

“Foodservice is interested in local and heirloom products,” she said. “They are interested in produce that has a story behind it. Those kinds of products are leading edge and are what makes chefs’ menus look trendy and provide adventures in eating. Our SlimCados fit that bill.”