With Easter gone and ample asparagus supplies rolling in, retailers can prepare to promote them straight through spring into summer.
In March, asparagus marketers looked ahead to two big promotable spring holidays: Mother’s Day on May 12 and Memorial Day on May 27.
“Mother’s Day seems to be a pretty good draw for California asparagus,” said Dan Miller, director of field operations for San Francisco-based Jacobs, Malcolm & Burtt Inc., which began harvest March 3 in Fresno County, Calif. He said he expects to have product available through mid-May.
Recent studies have shown that shoppers are adding asparagus to their carts more than in the past. Consumers are clamoring for fresh spring asparagus, said Cherie Watte Angulo, executive director of the El Centro-based California Asparagus Commission.
“It’s an anticipated seasonal item,” she said.
Displaying product in a refrigerated unit is an ideal way to increase sales, said Cruz Carrera, asparagus category manager at Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif.
“Larger display units also create more visibility and therefore are a great way to generate more sales,” he said.
Besides retail, many suppliers sell to national and independent foodservice distributors and restaurants.
“The foodservice component is a small but growing part of our business,” said Paul Auerbach, president and CEO of Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., Secaucus, N.J.
With California’s harvest rolling along and Washington expecting significant volume April 5-10, asparagus supplies should be ample this spring. In mid-March, Michigan remained snow covered, but growers anticipate a normal May through early July season, just in time for promotional spikes.
“A lot of times Michigan will want to get volume in stores for the Mother’s Day push,” said Todd Miedema, marketing director and a principal at Miedema Produce Inc., Hudsonville, Mich. “This year, with Mother’s Day on May 12, they may have some asparagus to talk about.”
Marketers said highlighting local produce is an important factor in sales.
“Michigan asparagus is very popular in the Great Lakes area, so it receives a lot of promotion (here) because of that,” he said. “The chains here usually promote it heavily with ‘Michigan Grown’ labels.”
‘Less obvious’ holidays
A note to retailers: don’t forget about promoting asparagus at “less obvious” holidays, like Cinco de Mayo or Father’s Day.
Watte Angulo said the commission noticed a recent surge in interest in asparagus recipes, including an asparagus/avocado guacamole for Cinco de May. She suggests displaying recipes alongside the spears at retail.
“Asparagus is extremely versatile in that it fits in with so many different ethnic cuisines,” she said.
She added that consumers are turned off by substandard product, often reluctant to purchase again, so it is incumbent upon the retailer to maintain quality.
“Retailers should stock the highest-quality product available in order to maintain sales. I also think retailers can move more volume by supplying two different sizes of asparagus,” Watte Angulo said. “Consumers like choice and are often looking for a specific size for a particular recipe.”
Great for grilling
“As we approach the summer months, consumers will be buying asparagus to put on the grill,” said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Southern Specialties Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla. “We want people to pick up those large-format (2-pound or larger) bags because asparagus is perfect for grilling.”
“We encourage consumption of asparagus past Easter through the use of various methods. The first one is playing up the grill-ability of asparagus,” said Julia Inestroza, marketing director at Los Angeles-based Gourmet Trading Co.
“We also recommend displaying asparagus at eye-level near other gourmet items, such as chanterelle mushrooms, red bell peppers and artichokes,” said Chloe Varennes, marketing manager at Gourmet Trading.
“Additionally, offering nutritional information along with serving suggestions will help consumers know when and how to prepare asparagus.”