Year of the Horse focuses on families and food, providing good opportunities for produce

January will be a time of celebration as people anticipate Chinese New Year and the coming of the Year of the Horse. People born in horse years are said to be skillful with money, perceptive, cheerful and full of wit. The celebration will begin Jan. 31 and continue for 15 days.

Festivities connected with the holiday are ancient, dating back some 4,000 years to the Shang Dynasty. Today, Chinese New Year is also known as Spring Festival, and it remains China’s most important social and economic holiday. OpenerShotJungle Jim’s International Market in Fairfield, OH, provides its customers with a host of Asian produce items. Consumers are increasingly being exposed to new dishes incorporating Asian produce items when they dine out, and are now bringing that experience into their own kitchens.Families focus on their reunion and hopes for the future. As in ancient times, food plays a pivotal role in today’s celebrations.

In May 2010, the Crop Diversification & Biofuel Research Education Center of the University of Kentucky-College of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service published its report, Marketing Asian Produce. The report quantified emerging trends regarding consumption of Asian produce, showing that commodities have crossed cultural lines and are being increasingly incorporated into at-home meal planning by Asian and non-Asian populations in the United States.

“The increasingly diverse appetites of Caucasian consumers, combined with a larger ethnic Asian population, fueled an explosion in the popularity of ethnic Asian cuisine during the 1990s and into this century,” the report stated. “In the 2000s, American consumers already familiar with Chinese cuisine began exploring Thai, Japanese, Indian and Korean fare, especially when dining out.”

It is not surprising that ethnic restaurants offering quick casual and fusion cuisine became increasingly popular. During 2002, the Food Institute named Asian cuisine as “the next hot concept for the restaurant industry.”

According to the report, the fusion of Asian and Latin cuisine was deemed one of the top 20 food trends in 2010 by Restaurants & Institutions magazine.

While the report stated that Caucasian consumers tend to prefer value-added and processed vegetables, “there are some growing market niches for fresh Asian vegetables.”

The Produce News spoke with four companies that market Asian produce to get their comments and insights about these trends.

Based in Orlando, FL, Spice World is a leading producer of garlic, as well as herbs and spices. Louis Hymel, the company’s director of purchasing and marketing, said Spice World supplies both conventional and organic garlic to retail supermarket chains as well as customers in the foodservice and industrial sectors.

“Garlic fits all international cuisines and in itself can be exciting to cook and eat,” Hymel told The Produce News. “Spice World is completely vertically integrated from field to plate, making us a leader in the garlic industry. We know our customers and their customers. Therefore, we offer garlic in every variety imaginable and convenient to use.”

An array of packaging options, including bulk, fresh in cello or mesh bags, peeled and ready-to-use jarred garlic are available for both conventional and organic garlic.

One of its very popular items, squeeze garlic, was introduced in 2010. The line eventually included both 20-ounce and 9.5-ounce contains for conventional garlic. In 2012, the program was expanded, offering the same ease and convenience for consumers purchasing organic garlic.

“Our value-added garlic items are so much a main ingredient for Asian cooking, especially our squeeze garlic in extra virgin olive oil, which was introduced less than a year ago,” Hymel said.

Hymel added that some of Spice World’s retail partners offer special promotions around Chinese New Year, which increase overall garlic sales.

I Love Produce, located in Kelton, PA, is making a big push with its Asian pear program from China.

“There are only three packers from Shandong Province, China, allowed to ship Singo pears to the United States,” said Jim Provost, an owner of the company. “One of these shippers has formed an exclusive distribution agreement with I Love Produce for our team to market their pears in the United States.”

Provost said a new protocol has been established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to facilitate the import of two pear varieties.

“One is the Singo pear, which is a traditional Korean-style pear,” he said. “It is round in shape, brown-skinned, crunchy and juicy.”

According to Provost, the Singo pear is exactly the same size as the one grown in Korea. “Korean farmers brought the trees from Korea to propagate the variety in China,” he added. “The taste is very good and sweet, with Brix averaging 14.”

The other pear is known as a Golden Pear, and Provost said it is generally favored by Chinese consumers.

I Love Produce just introduced its new three-pack clamshell for Asian pears. “It has three large pears per package, and will retail in the $ 5.99 to $ 6.99 range,” Provost said.

In addition to its Asian pears, I Love Produce sells Japanese sweet potatoes, garlic and ginger.

“January is going to one of the tightest markets on record for Chinese ginger,” he added. “So featuring ginger on ad for Chinese New Year will be tough. China is gapping between old and new crop, with new crop arriving around the last week of January. Brazil is finished, and Central America is winding down.”

Currently, Hawaii is the only shipping area coming into ginger production. “The prices are in the $ 42 to $ 45 per-box range,” Provost said. “The market is going to be very strong for the next month.”

Maurice A. Auerbach, headquartered in Secaucus, NJ, moves all major Asian produce items. The company’s history dates back to World War II when it began moving garlic.

“We cater to what our customers want,” said Bruce Klein, director of marketing. “We procure based on this.”

Consumer interest in Asian produce continues to grow. “These items are almost mainstream,” Klein said.

According to Klein, consumers enjoy dishes they taste in restaurants and are learning how to makes them at home. Consumers are becoming more experimental with items that were previously unfamiliar to them. To illustrate, he said, “Baby bok choy is really showing good movement.”

Christopher Ranch LLC, based in Gilroy, CA, began moving bulk garlic a half-century ago. Today, it grows, packs and ships 70 million pounds of garlic annually. Its product line includes chopped and crushed garlic, whole peeled garlic cloves, elephant garlic, roasted garlic, shallots, pearl onions, boiler onions, cipolline onions, roaster chopped ginger, pesto and sun-dried tomatoes.

Marketing Director Patsy Ross said the company is currently transitioning from fresh Brazilian ginger to Hawaiian ginger.

“Hawaiian ginger shipments began about one month sooner than normal,” she told The Produce News. “Last season, we experienced some crop and weather issues. But we are optimistic that volume will be up this year.”

Ross said Christopher Ranch will work with its retail partners to determine “what kind of product mix makes sense for them” as they prepare for Chinese New Year.

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