The El Centro-based California Asparagus Commission received a resounding vote of confidence in its recent renewal vote, said Tom Tjerandsen, marketing consultant.
Every five years, U.S. Department of Agriculture-sanctioned marketing boards must poll their members to see if they still want the board to exist.
“In this day and age, with high costs growers face, it’s a not slam dunk” that boards will be granted another five years of life, Tjerandsen said.
Clearly, that’s not the case in the California asparagus industry. More than 90% of its members voted for continuance of their association, Tjerandsen said.
“They voted to renew at an unprecedented rate,” Tjerandsen said. “There are a few boards that get (approval rates in the) mid-90s.”
Since 2008, the commission’s assessment rate has been $.008 per pound of fresh asparagus. The commission’s board of directors reapproved that rate for 2011.
With that mandate, the board intends to aggressively pursue new foodservice business, Tjerandsen said.
“Our fastest-growing target market is foodservice,” he said. “We’re doing a lot more with colleges and universities, schools, white tablecloth and family restaurants.”
Foodservice distributors will be another target market for the board to pursue more aggressively, Tjerandsen said.
“Foodservice distribution has been an untouched market in terms of incentives,” he said.
One incentive program the commission plans to use would pit one distribution center against another, to determine which could generate more sales of California asparagus, Tjerandsen said.
The winner might get a $500 gift certificate. Tjerandsen considers that a small investment for something that could generate real interest and competition among the members of a distribution network.
The commission also plans to continue efforts to convince retailers and foodservice providers to stock a variety of sizes of California asparagus this season, Tjerandsen said.
Many already are convinced, a trend that he said should continue to grow.
“It used to be that a retailer offered only one size,” he said.
“Then they discovered you could offer jumbos for barbecuing, pencil-thin asparagus for salads, another size for stir-fry. The variety of sizes makes quantum leaps upward every season.”
Cherie Watte Angulo, the commission’s executive director, also expects a good mix of sizes in 2011, and reports increased demand for different sizes.
“We anticipate having all sizes available throughout our three-month harvest window,” she said.
“California varieties can produce a larger share of large and extra-large spears.”
The commission encourages retailers to stock two or three different sizes of asparagus, Angulo said.
Also new at the commission, Angulo expects to relaunch its website, www.calasparagus.com, in time for the beginning of the California season.
“The new site will be easier to navigate and will provide all the latest marketing and consumer tools,” she said.