The growth areas in specialty produce are many and varied, but they seem to exude a Latin flavor, according to some marketers.
A number of suppliers point to some varieties of chili peppers as the category’s new stars. Others point to tropical fruits or niche greens, such as radicchio, for having generated steady sales increases in recent years.
Chili peppers that reach high on the Scoville scale,a measure of a pepper’s heat level, seem to be getting attention today, said James Macek, president of Coosemans Denver Inc.
“Everybody’s now pretty familiar with the ghost pepper,” one of the hottest of the hot peppers, he said.
Scorpion peppers, which register even higher Scoville readings than ghost peppers, also are finding audiences, particularly in high-end restaurants, Macek said.
The shishito pepper, which is fairly mild, also has drawn some attention, Macek said.
“Peppers, in general, are a good fit for a diverse population,” Macek said.
Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Vernon, Calif.-based World Variety Produce Inc., which markets under the Melissa’s brand, said he has seen 7% growth in the Latin category of produce in the last year.
“Anaheim, poblano and hatch are the category pepper leaders, but other items like jicama, chayote squash, cilantro and tomatillo are showing future growth in the category, as well,” Schueller said.
French green beans
Other items within the specialty category are showing promise for growth, said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development with Pompano Beach, Fla.-based grower-shipper Southern Specialties.
Eagle cited his company’s line of Southern Selects French green beans as one example of a niche product that is attracting more demand.
“We have a variety of pack sizes, and we see that demand continuing into the summer as the French beans are not only great enjoyed hot but they are tender, flavorful and work exceptionally well in salads,” he said. The beans are common ingredients in nicoise salads, he said.
Eagle said the French green beans stand out from standard green beans in several ways, including a thinner body.
“They don’t have a fiber string that many typical green beans have, and they have no mature seeds inside the pods,” he said.
The also have unique flavor, nutritional value and texture, he said.
Mamey sapote and star fruit have growing followings in certain regions and ethnic populations, said Eddie Caram, general manager of Princeton, Fla.-based New Limeco LLC.
“Mamey sapote sells a lot in the Northeast, whether Hispanic or tropical climate, and star fruit is pretty much everywhere, especially if there’s Asian consumers and a lot of wholesalers that buy for food distribution and the food industry,” Caram said.
Gooseberries have shown steady growth, said Jaysen Weidner, a salesman with McMinnville, Ore.-based berry grower-shipper Hurst’s Berry Farm.
The Oregon gooseberry season got underway in late May and will run through early July, Weidner said.
“It’s not a huge item, and foodservice is our biggest buyer (of gooseberries),” he said.
Common uses for fresh gooseberries, he said, are sauces, jams and garnishes.
Restaurants feature gooseberries when they’re available, Weidner said.
Specialties are an important part of a total produce program at retail and foodservice, said Marc Marchini, sales and marketing manager with Le Grand, Calif.-based J. Marchini & Sons Inc. focuses on radicchio and other specialty items.
“That’s always a slowly growing market but adds diversity to the customers’ (product line),” he said.
In restaurants, chefs are always looking for new items to feature, he said.
“There’s a market for a producer, but you really need to be set up in a way to pay attention to little details,” Marchini said.
The economies of scale really work for big items, but for niche items, a retailer or foodservice customer has to decide which specialty items will work and which ones won’t, Marchini said.
Schueller said the summer specialty tree fruits have built momentum over the past few years, listing velvet and aprium apricots, white-flesh nectarine, plumcots and Saturn peaches.
“Also we have seen some growth in summer melon varieties, like canary, galia, hami, orange-fleshed and sharyln,” he said.
Muscato, champagne and niabell grapes also have shown double-digit growth, Schueller said.
“We are expecting a similar season this summer with all the tree fruits anticipating a double-digit growth,” he said.
Schueller also said he had seen growth in the specialty potato category, with more expected in the fall, when the new crop comes in.
“Our strength is in the baby potato category on our exclusive varieties baby Dutch yellow potatoes and ruby gold, but we also see continued strong showing in the mixed fingerlings, whites, red, purple creamers, too,” he said.
The category grew about 8% last year and likely will grow up to 13% in the next season, he said.
Root vegetables are showing promise, said Bruce Klein, marketing director with Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., Secaucus, N.J.
He cited ginger root as an example.
“A lot of the chefs are cooking with it, so they’re using it with recipes, and that translates into the consumer buying more,” he said.