Bags gain ground in asparagus

04/27/2012 01:38:00 PM
Cynthia David

In the world of asparagus marketing, the bags have it.

By the end of April, Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce Inc. plans to offer green asparagus in three sizes of breatheable bags.

Marketing and communication director Bill Tarleton said Mission’s new 1-pound bag of standard or large asparagus should be out “very soon,” the 1-kilogram (2.2-pound) bag launched last fall is heading to club stores, and he’s preparing a Memorial Day splash with a major retailer for a new 1-pound bag of steak house asparagus.

Tarleton said the idea came up last year as Mission’s sales force enjoyed a plate of jumbo asparagus at a steak house and discussed how to promote the grill-friendly stalks at the retail level.

“Retailers aren’t wild about carrying two sizes in a rubber-band display,” said Tarleton, “but we’ve got a lot of retailers excited about this new bag. We’ll see how it goes.”

Tarleton grilled steak and asparagus in his backyard for the photo that appears on the bag.

The high-tech bags retain color, freshness and flavor longer, he said, and they reduce dehydration and shrink.

All three Mission bags offer cooking tips and a quick-response code linked to Mission websites, stocked with recipes and serving ideas.

Bags of value-added asparagus remain a growing segment for Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Southern Specialties Inc.

“Demand has been good and consumers have been responsive,” said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development.

Popular bagged asparagus under the Southern Selects label include 6-ounce tips, 12-ounce spears and a 2-pound bag.

“We have other sizes as well,” he said, “and we’re doing private label programs.”

Though packing and film costs are high, Eagle said bags offer convenience, food safety and extended shelf life.

“Is it too expensive? That’s up to the consumer to decide,” he said.

“We want to make sure we have a broad enough customer base to make it worthwhile.”

Los Angeles, Calif.-based Gourmet Trading Co. is having great success with its new bags made with Xtend packaging film, said marketing manager Julia Inestroza. 

Gourmet is also seeing a lot of interest in its Green Giant Fresh brand bagged asparagus featuring the Box Tops for Education program, which raises funds for local schools.

“Moms are excited to see the Box Tops logo on fresh produce,” Inestroza said.

Walter Yager, chief executive officer of Miami-based Alpine Fresh, said less than a dozen customers have asked for the breathable bags in the past six years.

“Bags add a tremendous amount of cost,” he said. “At the retail level you’re looking at 30%-35% more to the average consumer.”

Instead of looking at convenient bags to grab the consumer dollar, Yager said retailers could offer value by carrying different sizes of asparagus.

“What about the customer that wants to buy extra large or jumbo?” he said, “or the customer that likes the really thin ones they can never find?”

Retailers could still use bags to differentiate products, he said.

“Why not carry one size loose and another size bagged?”

The convenience of bagged produce isn’t lost on organic shoppers, said Earl Herrick, owner of Earl’s Organic Produce in San Francisco’s terminal market.

“Some people feel organic is like some foreign planet until they see it marketed in a familiar way such as bags or clamshells,” Herrick said.

Leo Rolandelli, president of Jacobs, Malcolm and Burtt Inc. in the San Francisco market, said he has the opposite problem.

Only one of the wholesaler and distributor’s major retail accounts, Costco, has requested bagged asparagus in recent years.

“Nobody else has really caught on because of the cost,” Rolandelli said.

“So far, it’s not as popular as I thought it would be.”



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