Brussels sprouts sales may be booming in retail stores, but they’re making strides in foodservice, as well, according to growers and shippers.

Foodservice serves as a kind of launching pad for sprouts.

“It’s almost a standard side dish now in most white-tablecloth restaurants,” said Henry Dill, sales manager for Pacific International Marketing, Salinas, Calif. He said sprouts are particularly popular in Italian-themed eateries.

Others say brussels sprouts transcend ethnicity, that they’re big sellers in virtually all restaurant formats.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a Latin or Asian type of restaurant there — all foodservice has really embraced that,” said Robert Schueller, director of public relations for World Variety Produce, a Los Angeles-based marketer of the Melissa’s brand.

Ease of handling and preparation are major assets with sprouts, but the list goes on, Schueller said.

“It has great plate presentation, it’s a great filling side dish, it pairs with every type of meat, so it’s used very liberally in a lot of menus,” Schueller said.

It’s also trendy, Schueller said.

“Brussels sprouts is up there with asparagus and potatoes now,” he said.

That’s especially true in foodservice, Schueller said.

“In fact, that’s what allowed us to offer a baby sprout pack — we find a lot of our trends through our success in foodservice before we offer it at retail,” he said.

That’s a familiar scenario, said Kori Tuggle, marketing and business development director for Castroville, Calif.-based brussels sprouts grower-shipper Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, Calif.

“Foodservice is always ahead of the curve on food trends, and brussels sprouts have a popular menu item for the last few years, driving retail and consumer demand,” she said.

Salinas, Calif.-based Ippolito International LP focuses heavily on foodservice business sales for good reason, said Butch Corda, general manager.

“You can’t go into a restaurant nowadays and not see them. It’s been an exploding phenomenon the last two or three years,” he said.

He said there are several reasons for that: “The nutritional benefits of the brussels sprouts and the creativity of the chefs and applications.”

He said the product melds with chefs’ creative impulses.

“The recipe ideas for sprouts are endless,” Corda said.

Bob Montgomery, sales manager with Guadalupe, Calif.-based Beachside Produce LLC, agreed.

“More restaurants use them in a lot of their dishes, whether it’s a side dish or substitute,” he said.

C.J. Given, sales director for Taylor Farms Retail, Salinas, Calif., said media coverage of sprouts’ nutritional benefits, as well as their utilitarian aspects, has fed foodservice’s appetite for the vegetable.

“Part of that goes back to the cooking shows and the food networks, so you’re seeing them on a lot of menus that maybe you weren’t two years ago,” Given said.

Whatever the reasons, the numbers tell the story of brussels sprouts’ growth in restaurants, said Russ Widerburg, sales manager at Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, Calif.

“We do a lot of restaurant and institutional business, and the foodservice aspect of it has really done a lot to help the category grow,” he said.

Some grower-shippers haven’t explored sprouts’ sales possibilities in the foodservice sector, but they plan to do that.

“That’s uncharted water for us, but we’re looking into the possibility of doing some foodservice packs,” said James de Lorimier, account and commodity manager for Salinas-based Growers Express.