The value-added category is challenging, but participants in the California asparagus industry are exploring the sector in their own ways, said Cherie Watte Angulo, executive director of the El Centro-based California Asparagus Commission.

“We are really focused on research opportunities in the varietal side of thing,” Watte Angulo said.

“We’re looking at improving the quality of the asparagus tip. We are looking at packaging improvements and ways to improve the quality of our product. Value-added is a shipper-driven opportunity.”

Bagged product seems to have found the most traction, said Marc Marchini, a partner with Stockton, Calif.-based A.M. Farms and commission president.

“Value-added would be a couple of different things, and one is the big-box stores and some people are really getting into asparagus in plastic bags,” he said. “That means you’ve got a value-added component with the plastic bag, but it also means the quality of the asparagus is going to hold up longer than if it was just on the store shelves. And, people are doing just crazy things with recipes and all that kind of stuff, so I think the value-added there is where you put the asparagus after you buy it, what you put it into. You put it into everything nowadays.”

Bagged product seems more a product of the future than the present, according to some shippers.

“It’s a pretty small part of the deal,” said Wayne Gularte, partner with Gonzalez, Calif.-based Rincon Farms.

“It’s not real significant. There is some interest, though, or they wouldn’t be doing it. It’s still mostly rubber-band bunches,” Gularte said.

Leo Rolandelli, president of Jacobs, Malcolm & Burtt Inc. in San Francisco, concurred.

“There’s a few box stores taking bags, but it hasn’t taken hold yet,” he said.

Look for bagged product to increase its market share in the future, said Cruz Carrera, asparagus operations director with Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce Inc.

“With traceability and things like that, it’s gaining momentum, whether it’s a 1-pound bag or something else,” Carrera said “It’s always nice to offer more choices to the retailer.”

The market for asparagus tips is another value-added area worth exploring, as long as expectations aren’t unreasonably high, said Julia Inestroza, marketing and merchandising manager with Los Angeles-based Gourmet Trading Co.

“There’s a market for tips, but it’s not something that’s ever going to set the world on fire,” she said.

For now, she said, bags represent the dominant value-added proposition for asparagus.

“Tips have a shorter shelf life, and retailers are looking for more sales, less shrink and the way you do that is with bagged asparagus,” she said.