Herbs and garlic are finding ready and eager customers in the foodservice category, but chefs demand special requirements of the product to facilitate their use, suppliers say.

“The potential is endless, and chefs love it,” said Louis Hymel, purchasing and marketing director with garlic and spice distributor Spice World Inc. in Orlando, Fla.

Foodservice proves reliable market for herbs, garlicThe products easily inspire creativity among chefs, Hymel said.

“The aromas during prep and cooking are incredible,” he said.

Suppliers are well-advised to make the product as easy to use as possible, said Patsy Ross, vice president of marketing, garlic grower-shipper Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, Calif.

“Whereas fresh garlic with the skins on the bulbs is probably the No. 1 garlic item at the grocery store, peeled garlic cloves are key in the foodservice world,” Ross said.

That’s because fresh peeled garlic cloves are require no extra labor and come ready to use, with no waste, Ross said.

The rest is easy, she said.

“Sensory evaluation has shown that fresh California heirloom garlic has a strong long-lasting flavor throughout the whole dish as well as a higher brix count and a higher level of allicin,” she said, referring to the sulfur compound closely associated with flavor and health properties of garlic.”

Bruce Klein, marketing director with Secaucus, N.J.-based garlic shipper Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., said peeled garlic use is almost universal in the foodservice sector.

“I don’t think very many foodservice purveyors buy bulk garlic anymore, unless they need it for a special account or they’re selling a white-tablecloth restaurant that’s serving garlic that way,” he said.

There’s also growing support for garlic in institutional foodservice, Klein said.

“Schools, hospitals use it all year. It’s a very big item,” he said.

Miami-based Infinite Herbs & Specialties offers organic and conventional herbs, and restaurants generally go the conventional route, said Camilo Penalosa, a partner.

“Restaurants use conventional because of price, but also in restaurants,it’s very difficult to promote organic because you need to have an organic kitchen,” he said. “Everything needs to be organic. You can’t have both.”

Microherbs are popular among foodservice customers, said Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc., which markets the Melissa’s brand.

“Items like microbasil, micromint, microarugula are very popular in foodservice,” Schueller said.

White-tablecloth restaurants are particularly devoted to the fresh herbs, as well as garlic, Schueller said.

“It has growing potential amongst all parts of foodservice entities,” he said.

Herbs are finding their way into institutional kitchens, too, Penalosa said.

“People want to eat more healthy and institutions like to show fresh leaves on their food, and if they cook meat or kitchen, they like to put some sage, thyme or rosemary on top of that,” he said.

Tim Heydon, CEO of Harrisonburg, Va.-based Shenandoah Growers Inc., said he recognizes the sales potential in foodservice, but, for the moment, he is concentrating on the retail side.

“We do have some good foodservice customers, but our focus has been retail because that’s where we’ve really filled our expertise,” he said.

Foodservice sales likely will come in time, he said.

“More and more, you’ll see some of the leading (restaurant) chains and so forth will have fresh herbs, so we have seen growth in that segment of the market,” he said.

Success in foodservice is a matter of knowing one’s marketplace, said Andrew Walsh, CEO with Vida Fresh Inc., Morro Bay, Calif.

“Some cuisines don’t use a lot of fresh herbs in their food preparations — Mediterranean food tends to have more, but American food, you have very few herbs,” he said.