(March 12, 3:52 p.m.) Mann Packing Co. Inc., Salinas, Calif., is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Broccolini line, promoting it at food festivals, trade shows and other venues.

The company is a sponsor of the Pebble Beach (Calif.) Food & Wine Festival, March 27-30 and plans to promote the broccoli hybrid at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit, Oct. 24-27 in Orlando, Fla., said Lorri Koster, vice president of marketing.

Broccolini has become the cornerstone of the company’s current success in the foodservice industry, she said.

The Pebble Beach event gives Mann an entry into what Koster called the “white tablecloth” arena, with 52 acclaimed U.S. chefs expected to attend.

“They (event organizers) want to showcase the story of Monterey County and the products grown here,” she said.

Koster, along with John Nelson, director of vegetable sales and marketing for Sakata Seed America Inc., Morgan Hill, Calif., are participating in the Pebble Beach event in an effort to tell the success story of Broccolini as a concept and a marketing phenomenon.

“Broccolini was an unconventional cross of broccoli and Chinese kale but is unlike either,” Nelson said. “The flavor, which is much sweeter than the kale, is what caught our attention because we’re always looking for flavorful products to bring to the market.”

Nelson said that because Mann had taken on the seed company’s hybrid broccoli in the 70s, he wanted to work with it again to market its newest product.

“We knew they were looking for novelty in terms of products but also in terms of how to make it work,” he said.

Koster said that after agreeing to team up with Sakata, Mann had to figure out how to grow the labor-intensive product commercially.

“The first thing we wondered was, does America really need another vegetable?” she said.

She said the company conducted focus groups at the Culinary Institute of America’s college in Hyde Park, N.Y.

“They were just blown away by the taste, the color, the elegance of it,” she said. “They said it was worth marketing and investing in it.”

She said Mann trademarked the Broccolini name. Its generic name is sweet baby broccoli.

“Then we had to educate the buyers on how to merchandise it and educate the consumers on what it is,” she said. “It really took off when the foodservice industry got hold of it.”

The road to success for the product has had a few bumps along the way.

“There are some people trying to knock it off at farmers markets calling their products Broccolini,” Koster said. “We spend a lot of time protecting the trademark. We run quarterly ads saying Broccolini is a registered trademark, but I can’t monitor every menu in America.”

Mann Packing to celebrate Broccolini’s success
Lorri Koster, co-chairwoman for Mann Packing Co. Inc., Salinas, and John Nelson, director of sales and marketing for Sakata Seed America Inc., Morgan Hill, Calif., are participating in the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival on March 29-30 to promote the 10th anniversary of Broccolini.