Asparagus marketers are voicing concerns about record or near-record lows the asparagus market reached in winter, but they are not complaining about their retail customers’ ability to move the product.
“A lot of retailers have been promoting almost nonstop for the last five or six weeks, particularly the regional type chains that can react quickly,” Pat Ramirez, West Coast sales manager for Pompano Beach, Fla.-based CarbAmericas Inc., said in mid-March.
Bunched asparagus was available to consumers for 99 cents to $2.99 in many cases, Ramirez said.
Marketers say weekly ads are popular among retailers, but there are other tools available too.
The “homegrown” marketing approach is effective, said John Bakker, executive director of the DeWitt-based Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board.
“Michigan, northern Ohio, Illinois and the Chicago market would consider us their local suppliers,” Bakker said.
“With the volume of asparagus out there, we’re a day’s ride to half the U.S. population, so we have that freight advantage.”
Hart, Mich.-based Todd Greiner Farms emphasizes its proximity to stores, as well as the way the product is harvested, said Todd Greiner, chief executive officer.
“We advertise hand-snapped, Michigan green asparagus,” he said.
Buy-local programs work well in California, too, said Cherie Watte Angulo, executive director with the El Centro-based California Asparagus Commission.
“We see tremendous success with our Buy California/Buy Local promotions,” she said.
Watte Angulo said consumers associate the arrival of spring with her state’s asparagus.
“Prominent country of origin signage is a tried-and-true way to promote California asparagus,” she said.
The homegrown approach works well, said Marc Marchini, partner in Stockton, Calif.-based A.M. Farms and the commission’s president.
“When they talk about locally grown, field to fork, all those things you read about, this is what California asparagus was designed to do,” he said.
Multiple colors often attract attention at retail, said Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce, which markets under the Melissa’s label.
“The best time of the year for asparagus at this time is now, with every size and color available,” he said.
Various production seasons converge at one time, offering more options, Schueller said.
“The Washington season, Mexico season and common Peruvian market all come together at the same season, slashing prices across the board,” he said.
That’s especially true this year, with supplies running high, Schueller said.
“There is a huge amount of the market and the stores are promoting this like crazy,” he said. “We’re seeing just about every store retailing at 99 cents a pound in L.A.”
Once the weather warms up, shoppers will start looking for asparagus as a matter of routine, said James Paul, director of sales and marketing for Stockton, Calif.-based Greg Paul Produce Sales Inc.
“Asparagus is one of those items that shoppers look to in the spring. It’s a cheerful item,” he said, citing barbecues as a major lure to asparagus.
Bagged asparagus is growing in popularity at retail, said Julia Inestroza, marketing director with Los Angeles-based Gourmet Trading Co.
“Retailers can choose a pack size, color of asparagus or mix of colors (and) asparagus size to custom match what their customers are demanding,” she said.