Chefs are going beyond using berries in desserts and featuring them in dishes like strawberry paprika tacos, marketers say. ( Courtesy California Giant Berry Farms )

Berries have become a foodservice favorite as their availability grows and chefs discover new uses for the tasty fruit, grower-shippers say.

Berries are “definitely becoming more popular at foodservice,” said Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing for California Giant Berry Farms, Watsonville.

Restaurants increasingly use berries, available year-round, to enhance existing offerings and bring more value to their menus, she said.

“The great thing about berries is that they’re so versatile, you can substitute one for another,” Jewell said.

They’re easy to use and fit in well for any daypart — breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks or even appetizers, she said.

“Once it’s on the menu, you have to be pretty much guaranteed you’re going to have supply,” she said.

Berries can meet that requirement.

Watsonville-based CBS Farms, sales agent for Beach Street Farms LLC, does a fair amount of foodservice business, said Charlie Staka, operations director.

The company likes to spread its marketing efforts among retail, club stores and foodservice accounts, he said.

“Foodservice is a good market,” Staka said. “It’s not a lot of volume, but it’s a good, consistent market.”

Retail business can go up and down depending on ads, he said, but foodservice pretty much stays steady throughout the season, “which you really want because of consistency.”

Most of the berries Wish Farms, Plant City, Fla., sells are destined for retailers, but the company certainly isn’t overlooking the foodservice sector, said Amber Maloney, director of marketing.

“From a marketing standpoint, that’s something that we’ve been really been going after,” she said.

In fact, in late April, the company sponsored a blogger event at a local restaurant to promote Southeast blueberries.

Every course on the menu featured Wish Farms blueberries, Maloney said.

“We’re trying to do a lot of marketing events where we’re trying to get influencers and bloggers in the food world to share with their social audience that berries can be used in more unique dishes,” she said, “and in turn get restaurants more involved in featuring berries in their core dishes.”

The extent to which restaurants incorporate berries into their menus depends on the restaurant and the type of cuisine being served, Maloney said.

Until a few years ago, berries were used almost exclusively in desserts, she said.

But because of the current social media-led food movement, berries now are going beyond the dessert phase.

“They can be used for different sauces, marinades, glazes or dressings and as more of a feature as well as an accent,” she said.

“A lot of that comes from influencers getting creative and sharing unique recipes on social media,” Maloney said.

Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group works closely with the foodservice industry and finds its foodservice business on the rise — especially in the strawberry category — said Jason Fung, category development director.

“We’re seeing more opportunities to build out our foodservice partnership,” he said.

That movement coincides with the company’s development of its strawberry category, he said

California Giant is encouraging the use of berries at foodservice with its national Chef Invitational set for July 10 at Tehama Golf Club in Monterey, Calif., Jewell said.

The event was kicked off in March by Tom Smith, the company’s director of foodservice, to cement relationships with key members of the foodservice industry and recognize chefs who create innovative recipes with California Giant brand berries, she said.

Distributors Markon, Performance Food Group, Produce Alliance, Renaissance Food Group, Sysco and US Foods are inviting chefs within their networks to create recipes featuring California Giant brand berries.

Participants have until May 18 to submit recipes and become one of six finalists traveling to Monterey for the competition.