If strawberry foodservice sales dipped during the recession, things seem to be on the mend.

“From a strawberry perspective, business seems to be climbing again,” said Doug Ranno, chief operating officer and managing partner at Colorful Harvest LLC, Salinas, Calif.

“Just like the retail world, sometimes promotion or menu placement drives foodservice sales,” he said.

Menu innovation

As restaurants and foodservice purveyors get wise to the health benefits of strawberries, they’re starting to place them on menus in innovative ways, Ranno said.

For example, while consumers recognize strawberries as a great dessert item, they’re finding that they’re also a good snack item or that they make great smoothies, he said.

Some restaurants even incorporate strawberries into salads. And then there are the ever-popular chocolate-dipped strawberries.

“The diversity of ways in which you can consume strawberries is creating a great amount of usage,” Ranno said. “Our strawberry sales on the foodservice front, as well as our overall berry sales, have gone up.”

San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce reports a similar situation.

“The foodservice side is strong,” said John King, vice president of sales.

If there ever was a blip in sales, it seems to have passed. Business now is “steady to growing,” he said, adding that consumers continue to spend many of their food dollars in restaurants.

Andrew & Williamson keeps tabs on its foodservice customers’ forecasting, performance and sales because it affects the company, said Mark Munger, vice president of marketing.

“With several of our larger, direct foodservice customers, they have really weathered this recession quite well,” he said.

Chefs use strawberries in everything from a garnish to featured items, King said.

Munger agreed, pointing out that they’re used in beverages, salads and even yogurt parfaits.

Rebounding sales

Overall, foodservice business continued to grow for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., “though results are mixed across sectors,” said Vinnie Lopes, vice president of sales.

Sales seem to be coming back in a big way, Lopes said, particularly in the breakfast and snack categories.

“Berries will play a significant role in the changing culinary trends pertaining to breakfast and healthy snacking,” he said.

“(Quick-service restaurants) in particular are looking to berries as a means to bridge the gap on health,” he said.

Sunrise Growers Inc., Placentia, Calif., doesn’t have a lot of foodservice business for its fresh strawberries, said Christine Herrera, vice president of marketing.

“However, the company did suffer “a significant decline” in frozen strawberry business during the recession, which was more than offset by increased retail business.

“During the most recent six to eight months, we have experienced a return to growth in foodservice and are approaching pre-recession demand levels,” she said.

Santa Cruz Berry Farming Co. established in Watsonville, Calif., last year, wants to do more foodservice business because it has high-quality berries to offer chefs, said owner Fritz Koontz.

The company has not focused on foodservice in the past because it did not have berries available in all districts, and could not meet the year-round needs of foodservice accounts.

The firm did some indirect foodservice business through wholesalers, but this season, as the company expands its sourcing into new growing areas, the company plans to do more direct foodservice business, Koontz said.

Seven Seas Berry Sales, Watsonville, handles sales for Santa Cruz Berry Farming Co.

One change that has taken place in recent years is the switch from pint containers to clamshell packages, Munger said.

At Andrew & Williamson, only a few foodservice customers request pints, and they’re considered a special pack.

“The clamshell is really the optimal container for the berry,” Munger said.

There is less bruising, less cutting and more flexibility for better storage in a cooler with clamshells than with plastic pint baskets, he said.