The California Asparagus Commission actively promotes the availability of asparagus during the state’s season, and marketers throughout the country promote year-round asparagus programs with supplies from Mexico, Peru, Michigan, California and other growing regions.
Leo Rolandelli, president and general manager for Jacobs, Malcolm & Burtt Inc., San Francisco, said he has a steady supply of customers who buy California asparagus.
“We have a limited supply in Northern California,” Rolandelli said.
“You just make sure you can keep them supplied.”
The main selling point at the time of year is that the product is grown in California, he said. The El Centro-based California Asparagus Commission works to keep demand strong.
The commission’s consumer campaign consists of a series of food editor releases featuring seasonal uses for California asparagus, said Tom Tjerandsen, marketing consultant.
In March, the commission sent some of about 10,000 releases to food editors, food bloggers and recipe websites. The releases are sent in stages and timed so that food editors have enough lead time for publishing articles during the California season.
The releases show editors how asparagus can be incorporated into current food trends, such as sliders, tapas and grilled dishes, Tjerandsen said. A companion series is distributed to foodservice publication editors.
The commission plans to mail 3-pound sample boxes of asparagus to about 75 targeted influencers throughout the U.S., Tjerandsen said.
It contacts opinion leaders such as Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray, asking them whether they will help promote California asparagus by using it on their shows or in publications. If they agree to, the commission ships a box of fresh asparagus for demonstrations.
In marketing to foodservice entities, the commission offers incentives and works with restaurants, universities and other organizations to feature California-grown asparagus on menus.
San Francisco-based Lark Creek Restaurant Group, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and the University of California-Berkeley, plan to hold special promotions for California asparagus this season, Tjerandsen said.
All three have held promotions in previous years.
Lark Creek restaurant group advertises on its homepage, www.larkcreek.com, that “We’re Doing Extraordinary Things with Fresh California Asparagus.”
The group, which operates restaurants in California and Nevada, regularly features fresh seasonal foods. Its asparagus specials are scheduled to be available through April, said Marilyn Dompe, foodservice consultant to the commission.
The commission hired Palmer Advertising to redesign its website, said Cherie Watte Angulo, executive director. She said the new site has the same address as the previous site, www.calasparagus.com, and it is expected to launch in April.
The site will still contain sections for consumers, retailers, industry, foodservice and growers, but it should be more informative and easier to navigate, Angulo said.
The commission invested a significant portion of its public relations budget — about $20,000 — toward the new site because of its potential for reaching a widespread audience with promotional messages, Angulo said.
To save money, the commission has scaled back on its production of point-of-sales materials, but pamphlets and other materials will be available on the website.
“We can still do things that retailers need,” Angulo said.
“If a retailer has a need, call me and we’ll see if we can accommodate that need.”
A primary part of the marketing strategy for Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Southern Specialties Inc. is informing its customers about the array of asparagus options it offers, said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development. It markets green and white asparagus, green asparagus in various sizes, and a variety of value-added packages, including bagged asparagus, pre-trimmed asparagus tips and microwaveable packs.
“We try to give our customers and the consumer, ultimately, a broad variety of choices to fit their needs,” Eagle said.
In March, the majority of Southern Specialties’ asparagus was imported from Peru, with some coming from Mexico.
Most shippers said they offer promotional incentives to their retailer customers. Carb Americas Inc., Pompano Beach, works with retailers on seasonal advertisements and does promotions when volumes are high, said Jeff Friedman, president and sales manager.
Carb Americas, which sources from Peru, Mexico and California, also can work with retailers on point-of-purchase fliers, endcap promotional programs and in-cart ads.
Crystal Valley Foods, Miami, runs promotional ad campaigns with retailers, said Rick Durkin, director of business development. The company promotes traditional 1-pound bunches of Peruvian asparagus during five or six major ad periods per year.
Todd Miedema, director of marketing for Miedema Produce Inc., Hudsonville, Mich., said most of his customers look for Michigan asparagus during the season, which runs from late April into June. To increase demand for it, Michigan first needs to increase its production, he said.
“People want Michigan grass,” he said. “We need for more growers to grow it.”
Angulo said it’s important to communicate to buyers that asparagus is a good value because only a small portion of the spears goes to waste.
Rolandelli said it only takes a few spears to make a serving, so the cost per serving is low.
Asparagus is a versatile vegetable that works with a variety of techniques and cuisines.
One way Gourmet Trading Co., Los Angeles, encourages sales is by using recipe tags on asparagus bunches. Each tag has a photo of a dish on the front and the recipe on the back, said Julia Inestroza, marketing manager.
Consumers also can find links to recipes on Gourmet Trading’s Facebook page. Inestroza uses Facebook and Twitter to regularly communicate with consumers.
In early April, the Facebook page had been “liked” 37 times, and the Twitter account, @GourmetTrading, had about 250 followers.
In March, Gourmet Trading sourced asparagus from Peru and Mexico. Inestroza said Washington supplies were expected to be available in mid-April.