Asparagus may have been considered a pricey luxury at one time, but not anymore, marketing agents said.

Indeed, they add, the current recession has had little effect on sales.

“Green asparagus has done very well in the recession,” said Julia Inestroza, marketing manager for Los Angeles-based Gourmet Trading Co. “While our foodservice numbers are down a bit, they have been offset by the increased movement at retail. White asparagus has been affected more than the green, but aggressive price points have helped with even that movement.

She said purple asparagus, which is considered more a specialty item and available only in limited quantities anyway, already was less susceptible to economic factors.

Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development fort Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Southern Specialties Inc., said his company had logged positive sales numbers on asparagus, as well.

“We have experienced good sales across the board,” he said. “A recent Fresh Trends  report indicates asparagus sales have enjoyed a 13% increase over the last 12-month period, versus the previous 12-month period. Surveyed customers responded that 50% were likely to purchase asparagus versus 37% during the previous 12-month period.”

Home meals

The economic downturn may be forcing consumers to cut back in some areas but not in their asparagus purchases, said Dan Mol, president of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Mol Produce Co.

“In a recession, people don’t buy cars or houses or take expensive vacations, but they don’t cut back on what they eat much,” Mol said. “I’ve been in business 33 years, and it’s been my experience that the last thing they cut back on is what they eat.”

Todd DeWaard, sales manager for Hudsonville, Mich.-based Superior Sales Inc., agreed.

“It seems like it’s plugging along,” he said. “It’s certainly not slow in sales. From talking to people on daily basis, they say they have to give up a few things, but going out to eat is not one of them.  (Sales) are down but not 25% or 50% or anything. And asparagus, the demand for locally grown from foodservice is very strong.”

Leo Rolandelli, president San Francisco-based Jacobs, Malcolm and Burtt Inc., said he has noticed no downward sales trends to foodservice customers.

“There are so many spears in a box of asparagus, they can spread it out over many meals, so it doesn’t affect their food costs,” he said.

John Bakker, executive director of the De Witt-based Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, said growers and shippers in his state, which has the highest unemployment rate in the U.S., still expect to see a profitable season.

“It’s a tight economy and for some people asparagus is a luxury vegetable, but we still anticipate a pretty good year,” he said.

Price may be a factor, but consumers can find a way to maintain their asparagus intake, said Cherie Watte Angulo, executive director of the El Centro-based California Asparagus Commission.

“There is a price point, but the American consumer is cooking more at home and is looking for bargains,” she said. “They want the most the most bang for your buck. You look for the nutritional value, the usability and quality and freshness. That means a lot to them.”

Asparagus actually is a better bargain now than it used to be, said Alan Schreiber, executive director of the Eltopia-based Washington Asparagus Commission.

“You can now buy asparagus for $1.49 or 99 cents a pound sometimes, although sometimes they’re loss leaders,” he said. “Asparagus is now a commodity product. It’s not a luxury item anymore. The price is not going to surge.”