Some shippers said fresh herbs are part of the specialty category, but Camilo Penalosa, vice president of business development for Miami-based Infinite Herbs, said he wouldn’t say all fresh herbs are specialties.
Cilantro, mint and parsley are some of what he calls mainstream herbs, while fresh rosemary, chives and thyme are specialties, he said. And there’s another category of “super specialties” that includes lavender, lovage, summer savory, chocolate mint and other herbs that might be used occasionally or primarily by chefs, Penalosa said.
Infinite Herbs’ top selling item is fresh basil, which accounts for 40% to 60% of its sales, Penalosa said. The company sells other specialty items, including baby bok choy, tomatillos, sugar cane, rosemary skewers, organic ginger, baby carrots and squash blossoms.
Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Southern Specialties Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla., said some people might consider asparagus a specialty, but he doesn’t. It is the largest commodity handled by the company. He said he would, however, consider the company’s white asparagus, pre-trimmed asparagus and value-added microwaveable asparagus packages to be specialty items.
Eagle said he defines a specialty as a low-volume item that customers order in a single pallet or less.
“We like to transition from products that are actually very low volume and bring them along to something with mass appeal,” Eagle said. “I think all of our items would be considered specialties by some people.”
Robert Schueller, public relations director for World Variety Produce Inc., Los Angeles, said specialty items are those that cannot be found in every produce department in the U.S. They might appeal to certain demographics or be highly seasonal. Rambutans, for example, are specialties, he said.
World Variety handles about 800 varieties of specialty produce. Melissa’s Baby Dutch Yellow potatoes are one of the best known specialties items it sells, Schueller said.
Los Angeles-based Harvest Sensations’ high volume specialties are baby vegetables, fresh herbs and asparagus, said Gwen Kvavli Gulliksen, vice president of marketing. The company handles hundreds of specialty produce items and new ones are added frequently.
Kvavli Gulliksen said she envisions the specialty produce category as a pyramid with three tiers.
The pyramid’s base represents specialties such as baby vegetables, fresh herbs, some asparagus varieties, snow peas and other items that are somewhat common but not yet in every U.S. kitchen.