Thanks to the Food Network and television cooking shows, demand for several specialty produce items is heating up.

D’Arrigo Bros. Co., Salinas, Calif., has seen demand for broccoli rabe grow to the point where the company recently rolled out an iceless, prewashed 2-pound packaged product, saleswoman Gabriela D’Arrigo said.

The company, which markets under the Andy Boy brand, plans to continue to offer an iced broccoli rabe.

Broccoli rabe

D’Arrigo credits food blogs and the Food Network for raising the profile of broccoli rabe, a broccoli relative that’s also known as rapini.

“It’s still considered a specialty item,” she said. “It’s very, very popular in the Italian demographic. It’s big in Italian food. It’s almost used in everything.”

D’Arrigo Bros. also has seen demand grow for fennel, again because of cooking shows, she said.

“It’s becoming very, very popular. It’s definitely more mainstream,” D’Arrigo said.

Meanwhile, D’Arrigo Bros. is finalizing plans for its fourth-annual fennel cookoff, scheduled for late May or early June.

Focus on flavor

Misionero Vegetables, Gonzales, Calif., also has benefited from cooking shows.

“I think especially with all of the food shows doing such a good job introducing new and unique items, it gets people out of their comfort zone,” said Dan Canales, vice president of sales and marketing.

That in turn has prompted consumers to try new items and focus more on flavor.

Misionero Vegetables is banking on that with its Garden Life line of 14 conventional salad blends and its Earth Greens line of 14 organic salad mixes.

“What we’re trying to do is bring the flavor back to the salad instead of having it as a vehicle for ranch dressing,” Canales said.

Among the flavorful and nutritious offerings are a lemony blend, a wasabi arugula blend, a baby kale blend and a superfood blend. All are packaged in 5- to 7-ounce clamshells.

The Product Marketing Association recognized the salads’ unique mix of flavor and nutrition with the Best New Product Launch award at the October Fresh Summit 2012 in Anaheim, Calif.

The cooking shows also have elevated vegetables, such as kale and chard, by providing easy and tasty recipes, said Samantha Cabaluna, director of communications for Earthbound Farm, San Juan Bautista, Calif.

“Foods like kale and chard were sort of seen (before) as the things people only ate because they were good for them, and it was a struggle because they weren’t prepared properly,” she said.

Trusted resources

In addition, the shows provide trusted resources to hesitant cooks.

If a Food Network star such as Bobby Flay provides an easy-to-fix recipe, home cooks are much more willing to try a new produce item than if they weren’t given any preparation tips, Cabaluna said.

Diana McClean, marketing director for Salinas-based Tanimura & Antle, said the effects of the food shows vary by markets and individual retailers.

“Super greens are well publicized on food shows, and as far as demand I think it’s still a matter of what the retailer has space for,” she said.

Competition in the leafy green market is strong, McClean said.

“But we’re well recognized for our leafy greens program as well as our cruciferous program,” she said.

Kale and broccoli are among Tanimura & Antle’s more popular products.

“When you read the Food Network Magazine or Bon Appetit, they always have a recipe for kale,” McClean said.