Though often used for sweets, this little berry can be used virtually anywhere on the menu.

It’s no secret that consumers love blueberries. In fact, a 2016 Market Opportunity Study by SMS Research found that blueberries are a number one preferred fresh fruit among consumers. But when many people think of blueberries, usually sweet applications come to mind, like pies, cobblers, cakes; or breakfast baked goods, like muffins, pancakes, or scones. Yet with this tiny fruit’s high nutritional value, bold flavor, and vibrant color, restaurants that are not exploring the savory side of blueberries are missing out on half of what blueberries have to offer.

Many chefs are starting to catch on. In fact, the same study found that 9 out of 10 foodservice operators believe blueberries are well-suited for savory applications—with marinades, savory sauces, and main entrees being their top applications for the berry. And with more than a third of consumers being “very interested” in sweet and savory combinations, per Datassential’s 2014 “Dessert Keynote,” this popular flavor duo is an ideal use for blueberries on menus.

“Blueberries are versatile enough to fit into every meal—breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” says Mark Villata, executive director at the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. “We’ve seen chefs create delicious dishes using blueberries in soups, sauces, dressings, beverages—hot and cold. Paired with ground coffee, bacon, jerk seasonings—the opportunities on menus are endless.”

As consumer demand for menu variety grows, blueberry’s versatility offers restaurants a big opportunity to cash in on menu trends from global cuisine to bold flavors and beyond. They can also be used to attract diners to dishes they might not otherwise try. According to the SMS Research study, 20 percent of consumers will order a new menu item simply because it has blueberries in it.

“In restaurants, consumers are increasingly seeking out new, unique dishes on menus,” Villata says. “Even if they don’t recognize farro or quinoa, blueberries are that familiar favorite that will lead to an order.”

Taste, check. Health, check. But what about a restaurant’s bottom line? Blueberries offer many operational advantages to restaurants. Because the fruit requires no stemming, seeding, or chopping, blueberries are efficient in fast-paced kitchens. Additionally, because they have no peels, cores, hulls, or skins to dispose of during cooking, the fruit offers yield and produces little waste. If frozen is the preferred format, IQF blueberries allow chefs to use what they need to further reduce waste.

“Operators need ingredients that deliver versatility, consistent supply and consumer demand,” Villata says. “Luckily for them, blueberries dominate in all three areas. They’re beloved by consumers, are versatile across day and menu parts, and are available year-round. Operators can feel confident that the industry’s supply is continuing to grow with consumer demand.”

This ease of use, cost- and supply-stability make blueberries an obvious choice for restaurants meeting all of their operational goals, from sustainability to budget to labor management. But most importantly, blueberries are applicable to menu trends and delight consumers wherever they are found on the menu.

 “When consumers dine out, they expect a lot—from unique dining experiences to sustainable initiatives—but flavor is always what brings them back for more,” Villata says. “So when it comes to creating unique flavor experiences, pairing blueberries with savory items won’t only attract today’s customer, but the next generation for years to come.”

See the recipe for Grilled Chicken with Blueberry Relish here.

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