( Courtesy Harvest Sensations )

Foodservice produce sales are going strong in Southern California, suppliers say.

“Business is up overall in our L.A. region,” said Terri Fletcher, sales director, Los Angeles, for Los Angeles-based Harvest Sensations.

Even non-meat eaters can find something to their liking when they dine out in L.A., added Robin Osterhues, director of marketing.

“Last year, plant-based protein shipments from foodservice distributors to restaurant operators increased 20% with double-digit growth across the country, not just here in Los Angeles,” she said.

That means that many more consumers are opting for plant-based menu options across all day parts, Osterhues said.

Innovations like meatless tacos and plant-based burgers are popping up in fast-food and casual dining chains, she said.

“As this trend develops and matures beyond a meatless patty, we believe we’ll see more chef-driven creativity where vegetables are used for sauces and spreads to replace egg or milk-based products like mayo and cheese; and we’ll definitely recognize a higher percentage of plant-only based entrees for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Osterhues said.

And a number of foodservice trends are in evidence.

For example, kale is still widely featured on menus in the salad category, and use has expanded in health beverages because of its nutritional properties, she said.

Harvest Sensations’ global asparagus and fresh herbs programs also are growing among distributors.

“Asparagus is a good vegetable for breakfast and brunch additions, and herbs take a front seat when it comes to adding flavor to any dish,” she said.

Menus already have adopted spiraled and riced vegetables, and even cauliflower crusts have become ubiquitous for plant-based pizza, she added.

The company offers a weekly or biweekly e-mail newsletter that provides information on in-season items, tells why menu offerings are changing and describes what operators can do to react to trends and how to use common produce items in new ways.

At Los Angeles-based Melissa’s World Variety Produce Inc., year-round microgreens and edible flowers are becoming more popular to garnish not only dishes, but to infuse and garnish drinks for a wow factor and to help yield a better ring for the dishes, said Miki Hackney, foodservice associate.

“It adds that spark of specialness and often justifies the bump in menu pricing,” she said.

“Specialty veggies such as fioretto flowering cauliflower and striped Enjoya peppers are moving the meter simply because they have flavor and are easy to work with,” she said.

Seasonal items like Masumoto peaches and nectarines and Charentais melons are always a hit, she said.

“Brentwood corn is big this season, with everyone serving riffs on the Mexican street corn elote,” she said, and there are myriad tomatoes from baby and full-sized heirlooms to baby tomatoes-on-the-vine and colorful large slicing tomatoes, she said.

Millennials are at the forefront when it comes to choosing healthful options, like fresh fruits and vegetables, when they dine out, Osterhues said.

Whether they’re on a low carb, paleo, pagen, vegan, flexitarian, vegetarian or keto diet, they are mostly based on protein and quality vegetable intake, she said.

“For non-meat eaters, nutrient-dense vegetables, grains and legumes are the order of the day,” she said.

Millennials are challenging many chefs by posting dishes and commenting — constructively or not — on social media, Hackney said.

“Those images influence their generation and others — especially chefs — to see what and how others are preparing ingredients,” she said.

Millennials also are very knowledgeable about various lifestyle and food trends and international and cultural flavors, she said.

“Their curious minds are always on the lookout for something new and different.”