“We always find increased demand for the holiday,” said Peter Leifermann, director of sales and fruit procurement for Homestead, Fla.-based Brooks Tropicals LLC.
“Retail sales are growing in the Asian community, but it’s not just Asian markets. Chinese New Year has crossed over. Retailers and consumers love holidays. It’s not July 4, but it’s definitely growing every year.”
Demand is bigger for fruits than vegetables, with ginger the one major exception, Leifermann said.
On the fruit side, Leifermann said the relatively early date of Chinese New Year 2014 — Jan. 31 — fits perfectly with the arrival of fruits from several growing areas.
From Jamaica, Brooks Tropicals will be bringing in easy-peeler tangelos, Leifermann said.
“It’s sweet, mildly acidic, virtually seedless, and it will be peaking right at that time.”
Chinese New Year falling in January also means Brooks Tropicals will still be shipping carambolas from Florida and will have peak volumes of passion fruit from the state, Leifermann said.
The company also will have promotable volumes of solo papayas which, perfect for Chinese New Year, are peaking on large sizes.
“It’s a holiday that tends to demand the biggest piece of fruit possible,” Leifermann said. “The gift is typically one piece of fruit.”
In Chile, meanwhile, the Chilean Cherry Committee is looking forward to another year of targeting sales for the period around Chinese New Year, said Karen Brux, North American managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, San Carlos, Calif.
“We have a number of retail promotions confirmed for early January, supported by new point-of-sale materials, recipes and images,” Brux said.
Sherman Oaks-based Sunkist Growers, meanwhile, will offer retailers two Chinese New Year-themed 10-pound cartons of navel oranges, said Joan Wickham, manager of advertising and public relations.
One carton features a smiling horse with an orange wedge in his mouth and the words “2014 Year of the Horse.” The other features a red envelope and coins, traditional Chinese New Year gifts. Both cartons also are illustrated with Chinese characters.
“These cartons have been very popular among customers in our Asian export markets, and have also gained traction domestically,” Wickham said.
Vegetables also a hit
Snow peas, a mainstay of Chinese cooking, are always a big draw at Chinese New Year for Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Southern Specialties, a major year-round supplier of the commodity for both foodservice and retail, said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development.
But two other vegetables — sugar snap peas and asparagus — have been gaining ground.
“In recent years they’ve become more and more popular with Chinese customers,” Eagle said. “You can find them on many menus now.”
For Chinese restaurants, asparagus goes great in stir fries and offers differentiation because, Eagle said, it’s a vegetable that’s perceived as gourmet or upscale.
There’s potential for retail growth, Eagle said, in marketing vegetables for Chinese New Year and in cross-merchandising them with other Chinese food items from other parts of the store.
“Chinese New Year is kind of undersold,” he said. “There are opportunities that should be taken advantage of a little more frequently.”
On Dec. 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $10-11 for 7.7-pound containers of solo golden papayas from Brazil 7-12s, down from $13-14 last year at the same time.
Eleven-pound cartons of extra-large bing cherries from Chile were $38-40, down from $40-42 last year.
Ten-pound cartons of Guatemalan snow peas were $13-14, up from $6-7.