Radical radishes popular in specialty market

03/02/2011 10:02:14 AM
Mike Hornick

SALINAS, Calif. — Watermelon radishes and baby purple artichokes are two of the growth items in California specialty vegetables for Frieda’s Inc.

White on its exterior, the watermelon radish reveals pink flesh when cut.

“That’s a popular item for higher-end retailers and foodservice,” said Hazel Kelly, spokeswoman for Los Alamitos-based Frieda’s. “It gained some traction last year when the White House was doing their garden. They grew watermelon radish, so that’s got a little more cache now.”

The company has high hopes as well for its Easter egg radish. Multiple colors — red, purple, pink and white — appear in each bunch, hence the radish’s name.

“It’s not a new item, but it will be new to a lot of people,” Kelly said.

Santa Maria-based Babe Farms also grows the Easter egg radish – one of nine varieties the company offers. The others are cherrie belle, cincinnati, French breakfast, icicle, purple plum, rosa and sno ball. The company is promoting them all, saleswoman Ande Manos said.

Frieda’s also offers several varieties.

For baby purple artichokes grown on California’s coast, the season was just underway as February started. It will stretch into April. “They’ve gotten to be a hot item,” Kelly said.

The supply outlook for a variety of specialty vegetables grown in California was good.

“Radishes, baby carrots, baby cauliflower and parsley root will be in abundant quality and quantity through April,” Kelly said.

But the supply of fennel, much of it grown in Coachella, tightened a bit because of cold weather damage. Prices will be higher than normal into March, she said.

Babe Farms is offering a new, large romanesco cauliflower, Manos said.

“The romanesco is normally baby-sized but we just started growing it full-sized,” she said. “We had a lot of customers requesting the larger size, so we made some changes in the plantings.”

Babe Farms also sells baby carrots in seven varieties and diverse colors, among them maroon, white, pink, yellow and purple. The two orange options are french and thumbelina. Multicolored baby carrots have also done well for Frieda’s.

The specialty vegetable market is a competitive field that includes some growers better known for mainstream commodities — like Tanimura & Antle. The Salinas-based company offers about 40 specialties, including bok choy, anise, brussels sprouts, cilantro, parsley, kale and beets. They are sold under the Tanimura & Antle label and others.

“With (that) program we are able to offer the economics of consolidated purchasing and the food safety standards and procedures we implement at Tanimura & Antle,” director of marketing Diana McClean said.

For miniature sweet peppers, the California deal will start up again in May, Kelly said. Meanwhile they’re being sourced from Mexico.



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