Specialty items create a challenge for shippers faced with a modern produce market that demands product year-round.

“Seasonality is a challenge because these items are not available all 52 weeks out of the year,” said Doug Perkins, chief executive officer of HBF International LLC, McMinnville, Ore.

For Perkins, the answer lies in keeping specialty berries focused towards local customers.

We’re mainly a Pacific Northwest company, and that’s where these berries come from. There has been some production in Chile to help extend the season, but our company specializes in these items because they grow right in our backyard,” Perkins said.

Seasonal over local

However, local isn’t always the answer. Take tropical items, for example.

“We really need to get back into celebrating when things are in season,” said Jill Overdorf, director of business and culinary development at Coosemans L.A. Shipping, Vernon, Calif.

She said the local movement is good but in places where not a lot of produce is grown it seems reasonable to focus instead on what’s in season.

“It’s a practical application of moving forward from the locally grown movement, sourcing what’s in season, showcasing those items. Let’s make that a more relevant buzzword,” Overdorf said.

Offshore treats

By definition, a lot of local produce is also seasonal, but some seasonal items can’t be supplied locally, at least not all the time.

“Specialty items are very seasonal. I can’t think of a single item that’s available year-round, so one of our biggest challenges is sourcing,” said Karen Caplan, president and chief executive officer of Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif.

Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Southern Specialties, Pompano Beach, Fla., said he understands this well.

“The majority of our products are grown offshore, so I think that even with the local movement the increasing demand for more produce at lower prices means we’ll see more and more product grown oversees,” he said.

Wes Hamilton, executive chef for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Teton Village, Wyo., said in order for restaurants or retailers to truly take advantage of specialty items they need to think seasonally.

He said some produce items can only be enjoyed seasonally.

“Ramps are only available for a three-week season, and some items just aren’t meant to be eaten year-round,” he said.

However, some specialty items that were only available for a short amount of time in the past can now be sourced year-round.

“Dragon fruit used to be only available for a few weeks out of California, up until about four years ago. Now we carry them year-round,” said Robert Schueller, public relations director for World Variety Produce Inc., Los Angeles.