SALINAS, Calif. — Brussels sprouts are booming on the central coast of California, while Ippolito International LP and other growers enjoy rising demand for the vegetable in foodservice and retail.
“Brussels sprouts want to be able to look over their shoulder and see the Pacific Ocean,” said Butch Corda, general manager of Ippolito.
“They have the same view at our ranches here and in Baja.”
Production will return to the Salinas area in June, when it’s likely to overlap for a month with the end of the Mexico crop, said Katie Harreld, saleswoman for Ippolito. The California deal can stretch into early January.
The company, which ships under the Queen Victoria label, reports sales growth of up to 30% for brussels sprouts annually over the past four years.
“You’re starting to see brussels sprouts in a lot of places you weren’t seeing them two or three years ago,” Harreld said.
“A lot of major restaurant chains are serving them and they’re on almost every cooking show and channel as one of the hot new items.”
Foodservice experimentation seems to have paid off in alternatives to traditional recipes that focused on dipping steamed sprouts in butter or pairing them with bacon.
“They’re being sauteed with pastas, grilled on the barbecue, shaved into salads and baked into breads,” Harreld said. “People are finding a lot of creative ways to use them.”
The bacon and butter pairings retain their advocates, but what drives the market is consumer interest in the vegetable’s nutritional value, Corda said.
“They’re consumed as a healthy choice and the supplements that go with it — olive oil, sesame seed, poppy seed — are higher in nutrition than some of the other ingredients,” he said.
“They can taste very good without adding the calories or the high fat that was there in the past.”
Summers used to put a bigger dent in brussels sprouts volumes than they do now.
“It’s become an item you can depend on 52 weeks a year,” Corda said.
“It used to be in summer months they slowed way down from heat and humidity. We still do less than in fall and winter, but summer volume is tremendous compared to three or four years ago.”
Loose packed product springs to mind when brussels sprouts are mentioned, but the whole plant is also in demand, especially during winter holidays.
“It’s been unreal — the growth in the brussels sprouts stalk category for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Harreld said.
“We’re the largest shipper of fresh market brussels sprouts in North America,” Corda said.
“It’s a big item for us but only the fifth- or sixth-largest that we do. We have more than 40 commodities. Iceberg lettuce is probably our largest.”
Among those, artichokes are another coastal crop for Ippolito International.
The company introduced microwaveable artichokes in a two-count bag last fall in limited quantities.
“We were transitioning from Salinas to the desert then,” Corda said April 8.
“We’re just starting to come into volume on that.”