Banana marketers say they have the right product for foodservice customers, particularly schools and other institutions that are looking at ways to combine high nutrition and low costs.

“Bananas are doing quite well in foodservice,” said Bill Sheridan, executive vice president of sales for Coral Gables, Fla.-based Banacol Marketing Corp. “It’s a matter of getting the right product for foodservice. There are a lot of different packs now. I think a lot of companies have experienced through the industry how to get right product at the store level for the retail and foodservice people.”

Foodservice is an important part of banana suppliers’ mosaic of customers, Sheridan said.

“I really think the industry has done a pretty good job in protecting all the different segments, and foodservice is one of them,” he said.

“We continue to see increased foodservice demand for bananas in recipes or as a stand-alone grab-and-go healthy convenient snack,” said Craig Stephen, vice president of North American bananas for Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International Inc. “Nationally, the trend for healthier menu options also continues to grow as we see families demand more choices at restaurants.”

Ephrata, Pa.-based Four Seasons Produce Inc. does some school business in bananas, said Ray Taglialatela, retail services manager.

“We go to universities, colleges and some school districts, which is a good market for bananas,” he said. “Obviously, federal law mandates that the menus and selections at schools have to be healthier and include more fruits and vegetables.”

That appears to have been good for sales, he said.

“Initially it appears like there’s been a slight increase in their purchases from us,” he said.

Mayra Velazquez de Leon, president of San Diego-based Organics Unlimited, said she has seen an upward trend of banana sales to foodservice among her customer base in the Pacific Northwest.

“We’re starting to see that trend,” he said. “Sometimes I don’t know where the bananas end up, but I know someone is using them at foodservice in the Northwest.”

Jessup, Md.-based Lancaster Foods Inc. has a healthy list of foodservice clients looking for bananas, said Jason Sigg, buyer and ripener with the wholesale distributor.

“They take a lot of quads — individual bananas,” he said. “They just put it out — they don’t have to worry about it.

It’s a pretty good niche there. Restaurants do well with it. It’s maybe 10 to 12% of the business.”

Foodservice operators could improve their banana promotions, however, said Ed Odron, owner of Odron Produce Marketing & Consulting, Stockton, Calif.

“I think restaurants do a great job with things like strawberry shortcake during the season and peaches during the peach season,” he said. “Maybe I’m just missing it, but I don’t see restaurants doing a big marketing job on bananas. They do cherries and things l like that, but I don’t see them much with bananas.

“Since it’s so popular in supermarkets, you’d think that would be an opportunity for foodservice people.”