Bittermelon is one of the items that Val Verde Vegetable Co. has added to its lineup. A grant from the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Go Texan Partner program helps Val Verde market the exotic specialties it has added.
The Rio Grande Valley growing area is a perfect fit for Indian and Asian specialties such as bittermelon, Chinese okra, long squash, opo squash, Indian eggplant, methileaf and daikon, said Jeff Holton, salesman.
These items start producing fruit in the spring and go all summer, he said.
“It’s a very prolific fruiting here,” he said.
The new items are in addition to Val Verde’s lineup of greens, cabbage, peppers and melons.
“That’s what we’re really excited about — getting into something new, something you don’t see every day on your produce shelves,” he said. “It’s a growing market, and we have a lot of customers calling us.”
By offering a wide variety of exotics, customers can call up and get more value out of their shipments.
“We’re more of a packaged deal,” Holton said. “It’s hard to come down here for just a pallet of methileaf, so now they can get five or six or seven items at once.”
To help it promote the new deal, Val Verde Vegetable obtained a grant from the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Go Texan Partner program.
The grant, including matching funds from Val Verde, totals more than $44,000 for promotions, advertisements and marketing assistance.
The domestic availability of these items is limited, Holton said.
“The majority are imported from the Dominican Republic or Guatemala,” he said. “There are a few small producers in California that go from June until the first of September, and there’s a little done in Florida also, so we’re one of the few producers.”
Val Verde plans to ship these items nationwide, but most of the demand comes from the Northeastern U.S.
“There’s also some going to Dallas and Houston and a little bit to San Antonio,” Holton said. “There’s a lot of little specialty shops showing up with customers who still want to cook home-cooked meals and are looking to get some good quality vegetables.”