When quick-service restaurants started to add avocados to their menus, the avocado industry marked it as a milestone for their marketing efforts.

Now, avocados are central to restaurants’ own marketing campaigns.

That’s a huge step for avocado consumption, and something of a barometer for the fruit’s success in foodservice, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc.

“Subway’s commercial starts out saying, ‘It’s avocado season,’” Wedin said. “That’s a big step.”

Indeed, avocados aren’t just for guacamole anymore, Wedin and other marketers say.

The fruit now is central to numerous restaurant offerings in various foodservice formats, they say.

“Foodservice is actually thriving with avocados,” said David Fausset, salesman and category manager with Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce Inc.

Mexican restaurants such as Chipotle — which has about 1,600 units across the U.S. — continue to be key drivers for avocado sales in the foodservice sector.

But, others have jumped onboard, too, Fausset said.

“These restaurants are thriving and promoting avocados in their marketing campaigns, in which their commercials are giving the category high visibility,” he said.

Jose Rossignoli, category general manager for the Robinson Fresh division of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc. said avocados, unlike most fruits, are only eaten on their own 16% of the time, “making them an excellent option for a healthy addition to an otherwise staple menu item, such as a hamburger, sandwich, or salad.”

Part of a sustained growth pattern in foodservice promotions can be attributed to avocados’ versatility, Rossignoli said.

“There are so many ways to utilize the fruit for a variety of different purposes, like a nutritional alternative to butter or mayonnaise or a creamy salad topping,” he said.

In short, times have changed for avocados in foodservice, Wedin said.

“In the early days, so to speak, the Mexican restaurants had a lot to do with kind of originating some of the early demand for avocados,” he said.

Now, the fruit is finding its way into an array of sandwiches, sushi, pizza and other creations, Wedin said.

“Now, a lot of your chains like Chili’s are doing a great job with avocados, so that share of the restaurant business has changed a lot,” Wedin said.

Avocados sell even though they’re often available only at an extra charge, marketers note.

“What I think it shows is that having avocados on your menu is a great add-on that increases the overall value of the meal and also improves the experience of the customer,” said Dana Thomas, president of Riverside, Calif.-based grower-shipper Index Fresh Inc.

According to information provided by Datassential Insider in mid-July, avocado usage in restaurants has shown year-on-year increases in numerous areas, including 18% in sandwiches, 32% in hamburgers, 22% in pizzas and 15% in egg dishes.

“Avocado usage is soaring in foodservice,” said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission.

The commission has a program that encourages foodservice operators to include avocados on their menus with promotional support and menu “ideation,” DeLyser said.

“As a result, avocado menu mentions have been growing at an outstanding pace,” DeLyser said, noting that avocados were named “ingredient of the year” by Nancy Kruse at the 2014 Multi-Unit Foodservice Operator Conference.

That growth likely will continue unabated, said Bob Lucy, partner at Fallbrook, Calif.-based grower-shipper Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc.

“I think the foodservice market is going to continue to grow at a very steady pace,” he said.

Indeed, he said, the foodservice sector is an ideal outlet for smaller-sized fruit.

“In the old days, foodservice would take 40s and 48s, and there has been a trend of them taking 60s or 70s because of pricing,” he said. “It’s a broader spectrum, with more sizes going to foodservice, more flexibility driven by price.”