Don’t be afraid of it: that’s the advice of a veteran specialty produce salesman to produce buyers who are sometimes intimidated by unfamiliar items.
Maurice Crafts, salesman, specialty produce house Coosemans Boston Inc., Chelsea, Mass., said some customers are reluctant to offer specialty items, such as fava beans, micro greens or preconditioned avocados, to their own buyers because they don’t know enough about them.
“Bottom line, get it out there, get the word out to customers that you can get it,” Crafts said.
It’s not important to know everything about an item because many chefs already know what they want, he said. It is important, however, to be able to supply an item when a chef or other buyer wants it.
Some of the most popular items specialty produce distributor Sid Wainer & Son, New Bedford, Mass., sells to restaurants are varietal greens, wild mushrooms, baby vegetables, varietal berries, herbs and “really good” tree-ripened fruit, said Henry Wainer, president.
Sid Wainer promotes weekly specials on its website, sidwainer.com. In mid-March, it showcased sweet jewel fingerling potatoes in 10-pound cases, hedgehog mushrooms, locally grown micro popcorn shoots in 8-ounce packs and micro green basil in 8-ounce packs.
Green garlic, fiddleheads and ramps are spring items that were expected to arrive soon at Coosemans, Crafts said in mid-March.
Crafts said interest in specialty produce grows each year. His foodservice customers are becoming more committed to selling specialty items to chefs and restaurants.
“Micro greens and pea tendrils, all kinds of funky stuff,” Crafts said. “Specialty is getting stronger and stronger.”
About 90% of Crafts’ customers are foodservice distributors, but he said his advice applies to retail produce managers too. Some retailers don’t want to carry edamame, for example, because they don’t know what it is, but if they stock it, they will sell it, he said.
“If you have it, you’ll have customers who know what it is,” Crafts said.
Ring Bros. Marketplace, South Dennis, Mass., regularly stocks it and promotes specialty produce. The Marketplace draws a lot of “foodies,” said Ed Ring, co-owner. His customers tend to take seriously cooking and eating, so they look for items that are interesting and unusual.
“We constantly promote new stuff,” Ring said. “If there’s something new, we bring it in, promote it and sample it.”
In mid-March, Ring Bros. was promoting lady alice apples, golden beets, organic rainbow carrots, kale and other specialty items. Ring said the store daily squeezes fresh orange juice, seeds pomegranates and cuts fresh fruit and vegetables for salads.
Consumers go online to learn about specialty ingredients they’ve tasted in restaurant dishes, Wainer said. They look for ways to prepare specialty items at home and want their supermarkets to carry the items.
“The specialty SKUs that are available have probably doubled in supermarkets in the past five years,” Wainer said.
Retailers now have tropical roots departments, organics, fresh-cut fruit, prepared salads and other specialty items. Some of Sid Wainer’s newer specialty items include varietal mushrooms and berries.
Perhaps one of its more unusual items is stinging nettles, which must be prepared carefully, but can substitute for spinach or other greens in recipes.