Foodservice traditionally is a tough market for fresh cherries, but some grower-shippers see a glimmer of hope in that area.

A big reason for optimism is the trend among consumers to eat healthier.

“Large gourmet cherries can be a part of foodservice,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc. “There are a lot of chefs cooking with them and using them on fresh salads.”

Joan Tabak has witnessed that firsthand as sales manager for Roland Marketing, Fridley, Minn.

Cherries are becoming part of the mix, she said, and she is seeing more creativity in salads as restaurants cater to the healthy eating crowd.

This is the fourth cherry season for Roland Marketing, which distributes the Green Giant brand. Its typical foodservice customer purchases one or two pallets a couple times during the season.

Foodservice is also part of the marketing mix for Family Tree Farms, Reedley, Calif., said marketing director Don Goforth. Cherries work as a great garnish, he said, and they are a “very active commodity” in the foodservice sector during the season.

According to joint research from National Restaurant Association and the Produce Marketing Association, 72% of foodservice operators said emphasizing fresh fruits in their marketing efforts attracts more customers.

Pepperl said use of cherries is predominantly in white-tablecloth establishments, and Tabak said cruise ships and hotels tend to be among the largest foodservice customers.

Challenges remain when it comes to increasing the use of fresh cherries in foodservice, according to Pepperl and Tabak.

First of all, the pit makes them a choking hazard for children. And removing the pit makes cherries a cumbersome and costly fruit to prepare.

Because of that, Tabak said, chefs that use cherries in glazes or jubilees lean toward using processed that come with the pits removed.