PELION, SC — Kalemania began unofficially in January 2012, when Google searches for today’s superfood showed a sharp spike. Until then, kale was just another healthful, cabbage-like, leafy green vegetable. Just a small cloud on the horizon, kale was, no bigger than a man’s hand.
But to the product development team at WP Rawl, here, kale was in their wheelhouse, so to speak. As early as 2008, Ashley Rawl, vice president of sales, marketing and product development at WP Rawl recalls, the team noticed kale growing in popularity.
“The term superfood became associated with kale and it has been on the upswing since.” Kale is now the best-seller at WP Rawl.
“For years, one of our largest kale customers was in foodservice,” Rawl recalls. “They used it as a garnish.”
As foodservice began using it as an ingredient, WP Rawl saw an opportunity to expand and began looking at other ways to sell and market kale.
“Today we are very pleased where this amazing leafy green has taken our business,” Rawl observed.
WP Rawl had been growing kale for decades, but over the past few years it grew more kale, became a category leader, made it available year-round and launched more kale products, bringing the total to 21 (most recently, a new line of kale chip kits: Chili and Lime and Cajun Spice & BBQ Seasoning). It flooded the zone with kale recipes, and up-to-date information on the ever-expanding health benefits of kale.
WP Rawl has named 2014 as the year of kale. Kale Up! its website calls it, and offers recipes for events such as St. Patrick’s Day in March (“Kiss Me, I’m With Kale!”) to seasonal Kalesicles in June and kale breakfast recipes in September. On its website, the grower, processor and shipper offers tee-shirts, also used at trade shows and community events, with kale slogans such as: “Kalelujah!” and “Hey Girl…Eat Kale.”
Kalemania continues, as National Kale Day approaches Oct. 1 and kale creeps out of salads, juicers and smoothies into beauty products like face masks, skin care creams and nail polish. And WP Rawl is opening new doors also.
“The next few months will be an exciting time for us as we introduce a variety of new kale products,” Rawl told The Produce News in mid-September. “We will have two new kale chips kits ready by mid-October, and will begin expanding our Nature’s Greens line with a chard & kale blend, followed by our new Burgundy Kale. Later that month, we will launch our Nature’s Greens Kalettes.”
Kalettes is not the name of a Doo-wop group, it’s a new hybrid of kale and brussels sprouts, product of a decade of research by Tozer Co. in England, who has contracted with WP Rawl and five other U.S. firms to grow and market Kalettes here.
Kalettes are in limited quantities now, but supplies will increase through fall and winter.
“We’re very excited to introduce a new vegetable to the market; this opportunity doesn’t come around often,” Rawl said.
Not bad for a small family farm in the midlands of South Carolina that began almost a century ago growing and canning peaches, and got into leafy greens in a big way in the early 1970s.
It continues to operate as a “family farm” with nine family members in the business. In the late 1990s it created new markets when it began to offer pre-packaged, ready-to-cook vegetables, Rawl noted.
WP Rawl offers 15 varieties of fresh vegetables and 50-plus packaged, value-added products, sold by retailers from Florida to Maine and from Texas to Wisconsin.