Organic produce doesn’t have a huge role in foodservice, but the presence is there and growing, according to some shippers.

Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif., has noticed that increase.

“We’re starting to see increasing demand from foodservice, although it’s kind of commodity specific and not really across the whole board of organics,” president Tom Deardorff said.

Deardorff said the higher demand stems from vendors being able to find a product they like and are able to trust it will be available year-round.

“We’re reaching that point in the industry, and we’re gaining more traction in foodservice because of that,” he said.

Restaurants are more often requesting organic romaine lettuce, cilantro, tomatoes and bell peppers, Deardorff said.

Other companies have noticed the increase as well, including Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla.

“We’re seeing more organic in foodservice, sometimes even full-organic restaurants, and even more organic offerings in general with some of the national chains,” said Jim Roberts, vice president of sales.

“Foodservice had taken a big hit a few years ago, but our foodservice growth is now outpacing company growth,” Roberts said.

Showcasing specialty items

For Sunny Valley Organics Inc., Nogales, Ariz., the growth of its restaurant business has come from learning how to best showcase specialty items that chefs like to use.

“For a while, eating habits had steered away from heirloom tomatoes, but now it’s restaurant culture and even trendy to go back to basics and try to find items that really make a recipe stand out. Heirlooms were one of those key items chefs took it upon themselves to promote,” said Hector Crisantes, West Coast sales manager.

Competitive pricing

Still, it’s difficult to encourage restaurants to use organic produce because the foodservice industry is very price sensitive.

“Chefs like to cook with things that are good, but they need a competitive price. They want to keep it high, but not too high,” Crisantes said.

However, quality is an ultimate deciding factor, he said.

“A chef will look for something that eats really well, and they might be a little more flexible with price if it has that standout flavor and appeal of the item,” he said.

“Organics have a place in foodservice, but you have to pick and choose where to go. For us, it’s finding a specialty place where we can give the chef an item to showcase,” he said.

Certain areas of the country have seen this growth more than others, and Earl Herrick, president and founder of Earl’s Organic Produce, San Francisco, has noticed extensive growth in his community.

“San Francisco has quite a heritage of many organic restaurants, and almost any place carries something organic,” he said.

Institutional use increases

And it isn’t just restaurants that are starting to show more interest in organics.

“Even hospitals and different institutions are interested in organics,” said Diane Dempster, manager of the Farmer’s Own program and local organic procurement for Seattle-based Charlie’s Produce.

Herrick agreed.

“It’s making its way into hotels and schools quite a bit. A number of schools and day cares are buying organic apples as snacks for kids,” he said. “San Francisco is about as mature of an organic market as you’ll find.”

Even where there’s success in integrating organics into foodservice, there’s still plenty of room for expansion.

“Foodservice still has considerable room for expansion, even on the coasts,” Deardorff said.