“I don’t think the specialty market is growing tremendously, but I think it’s a niche item, and it’s not going to follow the same path as your bigger items,” he said.
The company carries an array of specialty items, including several varieties of radicchio; fennel; kale; punatarelle, a chicory; cardone, a relative of the artichoke; romanesco, a cauliflower varietal; two varieties of figs; Marzano tomatoes; organic sweet corn; Romano beans; and almonds.
“Specialty crops take advantage of a niche with low-demand and control over supply,” Marchini said.
Summer is a time for specialty fruits to flourish, said Robert Schueller, public relations director with Vernon, Calif.-based World Variety Produce Inc., which ships under the Melissa’s label.
“For the upcoming summer season, I would definitely say a variety of tree fruits — not just your typical peach, nectarine and plum — are going to find their way to the customers,” Schueller said.
He added the company is seeing “great distribution for its red velvet and black velvet apricots, as well as Saturn peaches, royale nectarines and several plumcot varieties.
Demand for herbs has picked up, said Camilo Penalosa, vice president of business development with Miami-based Infinite Herbs & Specialties LLC.
“Lately, as the economy has improved some, we’ve noticed there’s been some increase in demand on herbs in higher-end restaurants, which are starting to ask for new products again,” he said.
Among the most popular items are lemongrass, Thai basil and ginger, he said.