Harvesting asparagus is one of the more labor-intensive jobs in agriculture with high production costs. In California, growers pay a fair share for labor, commanding a higher price for local grass. In Mexico, a laborer might make $5-8 a day making the cost of imported asparagus seem less.
Asparagus was first planted in California in the 1850’s in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta region. Due to tough competition from imports, California acreage has been on the steady decline. In 2015 there were 11,500 acres of asparagus, down from 40,000 in 2000.
The first California asparagus harvested out of Imperial Valley is now on the market. The season should run for 4 months or longer transitioning to the San Joaquin Valley, Central Coast and Sacramento-Delta region.
As the season progresses, so does the flavor profile of asparagus. It will go from green and grassy to peak season sweet and succulent. Let’s keep promoting the seasonal excitement of these tender spears. Support your local grass grower!
*Keep a lookout for our staff picks noted in orange.
Apple and Pear
The apple market is booming with many varieties available. We have all the classic apples including Fuji, Granny Smith, Pink Lady and Gala. Not to be missed is staff favorite Sweet Orin with its irresistible tropical aroma and crisp and juicy flavor. New to the market is the late-season Enterprise apple from Columbia Gorge in the Pacific Northwest. Enterprise apples have a glossy attractive red skin and are often lopsided in shape. The flavor is sweet and mildly tart and improves over time. Enterprises are also disease-resistant and have excellent keeping qualities.
We have steady supply and sharp pricing on green Anjou (also known as D’Anjou) and red Anjou. Anjous are great all-purpose pears. They are juicy when ripe with sweet subtle lemon-lime flavor. Unlike some other pears, Anjous do not change color as they ripen. Ripen Anjous at room temperature and Check the Neck for Ripeness™ by gently pressing your thumb near the stem end of the pear. When it gives slightly, the pear is ripe. We also have sweet domestic Bosc pear available and imported Bartlett pears from Argentina coming in soon!
Avocado supplies continue to be mysterious and unpredictable. Overall the yields of the California Hass crop is very short, not much fruit on the trees, compared to last years. All growers are predicting a short season this year. Rains have dampened current harvest schedules. In the meantime, Mexican shipments into the US have slowed down, and prices are jumping up as demand outstrips supply. As a result, California Hass are really fetching steep prices for this early in the season. California green-skin varieties, such as Fuerte, Bacon and Ettinger are looking like great values for the next several weeks, before they finish up for good. Ask your Account Manager for details to match your needs as we navigate through the many choices available right now. The party will be over in the blink of an eye, but enjoy it while you can; we are very happy with the eating quality of the green-skins we offer!
California strawberry supply remains spotty due to rainy weather. Pricing on imported strawberries from Mexico is expected to come down in late February as we head into March. Chilean blueberry season is coming to an end, causing prices on domestic berries to increase. As Mexican blueberries start up, prices may level out as more supply comes on the market. Raspberry supply is steady but limited while blackberry supply remains tight.
Valencias are here! We have great supply of Arizona grown Valencias from Patagonia Orchards. B&J Ranch just started with Valencias, grown in Thermal, California. These Valencias are super juicy with good color and flavor. Navel oranges from Heath Ranch are done. Supply will remain steady between Cousins, Sespe Creek and Marian Farms navels, which are expected to go into March. Marian Farms is a biodynamic farm and distillery in Fresno, California run by Gena Nonini, a third-generation farmer. Marian Farms oranges are grown on heritage heirloom rootstock. The oranges are hand-picked at peak ripeness, when they are at their sweetest. Marian Farms oranges are also unique in that they are never treated with gibberellic acid, a plant growth hormone commonly used to stimulate quick growth and uniformity, often at the expense of flavor. Blood oranges season is underway with delicious fruit from Beck Grove (Demeter certified biodynamic) and Cousins. The blood orange get its name from the blood red color of its juice, which is rich and delicious with overtones of fresh berries.
Tango tangerines are in good supply and quality is excellent. This late season variety offers sweet citrus flavor and mild sour notes. Its rind is rich with citrus oil and becomes very aromatic if muddled. The perfect balance of sweet and tart makes tangos a popular choice for citrus and fruit lovers. Try ‘em in salads, as a snack, or use the fruit and skin for cocktails! Kishu mandarins are winding down–be sure to order before they’re done for the season.
Ruby grapefruit from B&J Ranch is going strong and expected to go into May or June. We’re also offering cocktail grapefruit, officially known as Mandelo. Developed in the 1950s, cocktail grapefruit is a cross of the Siamese Sweet pummelo and Frua mandarin. This fruit contains seeds but has excellent flavor—great for delis, food service and juicing!
After weeks of fluctuation, the lemon and lime markets seems to be holding steady in both supply and pricing.
Red globe grapes from Peru are holding steady. This season’s crop has sweet juicy flavor and crisp bite. Amazing flavor combined with their attractive large size, globes are very popular at this time of year when few other grapes are available. Be careful of the seeds in the center!
Peruvian grown Kent mangos are in good supply with sharp pricing. We also have Altaulfo mangoes from Ecuador coming in with great quality. Altaulfos have buttery flesh with a sweet, rich flavor. Great for a tropical twist to any smoothie, salad or salsa! We recommend trying them with lime juice and a dusting of chili powder and salt for a sweet and spicy snack. Que Bueno!
We have strong supply of mini seedless watermelon from Baja, Mexico with several growers on the market. Availability of Harper melons has improved so we expect supply to hold steady. Specialty melons Crenshaw and Piel de Sapo are done for the season.
Although it’s not quite stone fruit season in California, we have some imported Fortune plums from New Zealand. The fruit has a beautiful deep purple skin and juicy yellow-red flesh inside. The flavor is sweet and aromatic. One bite and you’ll be hooked! We couldn’t stop eating them when we did a sampling, what a surprise for imported stonefruit. Really a treat!
Nuts and Seeds
With consumers focusing on health at this time of year, nuts and seeds are a great item to promote for the plethora of nutrients and health benefits. Our nut availability includes: almonds, cashews, pistachios and walnuts as well as sunflower and pumpkin seeds, all sourced from local California farms. Our nuts are offered in several pack types and available shelled or roasted and salted.
We’re still seeing great pricing on California grown artichokes. The flavor is especially delicious right now when ‘chokes get “frost kissed” and have a nuttier and more intense flavor. Now is the time to order!
California grown green asparagus is coming on! This early in the season, the flavor is sweet and succulent with a hearty crunch! It’s too soon to tell where pricing will end up but prices are starting out on the higher end. Purple asparagus is not yet available and tips are limited.
Green bean supply is strong as our major supplier, Nature’s Nectar, is coming into a new crop of field grown beans. Quality on the new crop is high; expect crisp, flavorful beans with a satisfying crunch. Add some color to your menu or produce rack with this classic veggie!
Both bok choy and baby bok choy are in good supply. Also known as Chinese cabbage, this leafy green is highly nutritious and adds flair to soups and stir fries. We recommend sautéing in a hot wok with garlic, ginger and a splash of soy. Don’t forget to clean thoroughly between the leaves before cooking!
The broccoli market is steady with plenty of supply, including crowns. Sweet baby broccoli, also commonly known as broccolini, is coming in from Tomatero Farm in Watsonville, California with beautiful stalks and florets. Broccolini is a natural hybrid of broccoli and kai-lan, also known as Chinese Broccoli. The entire vegetable is edible; its flavor is sweet with notes of broccoli and asparagus.
Brussels sprouts supply is plentiful and prices are falling. We have both California grown and Mexico grown product. This is a great item to promote on ad or specials!
We can’t stop raving about the beautiful Savoy cabbage from Goldie, available in red and green. The heads have crinkled leaves in vibrant shades of emerald and red. Red Savoy is limited so grab these while you can! Cabbage this pretty needs to be used in bright and refreshing slaws! We also have steady supply of Napa, red and green cabbage.
After a brief gap in supply, cauliflower is steadying with product coming in from several growers. Prices are bit in flux but we do not expect any major price jumps.
Celery is readily available with several options for #1 quality and sharp pricing on juice-grade product. The stalks are robust with sweet and clean flavor which are perfect for green juices and soups during the height of cold and flu season. Did you know in the past, celery was used as a cleansing tonic to counter the salt-sickness of a winter diet based on salted meats without greens?
After a spotty few weeks, cucumber production is back on and supply has vastly improved. English hothouse cucumbers are in strong supply with falling prices from Mexican grower, Wholesum Harvest. We’re seeing steady flow of imported Persian cucumbers from Terra Bella Farms. Slicer cucumbers are also coming in with amazing quality and even better price. Now is the time to get in on ‘cukes for all your salad and pickling needs!
It has been a tough start to the year for boxed greens. Many growers are experiencing delays in harvesting due to cold and wet weather. Although it’s been tight, growers are hopeful that baby spinach, wild arugula and spring mix availability will improve soon.
The bunched greens market is fairly stable with steady supply of bunch chards, spinach, kales and dandelion greens. However, with consistent rain in the forecast for several California growing regions, the market remains uncertain and can change abruptly.
Lettuce, Retail Greens and Herbs
We’re excited to introduce green and red living butter lettuce from Happy Living! Living butter lettuces are hydroponically grown in Encinitas, California. They are grown using 80% less water, 1/5 of the land and can grow year-round. The flavor is delicate and sweet with a firm crisp texture. Heads have cup shaped leaves that often resemble a flowering rose. Look for watercress from this same grower, coming soon. Romaine remains limited and pricing is high. Retail packs of romaine and loose hearts are in better supply.
Retail greens supply is faring better than boxed greens. We have a variety of labels and salads mixes available in clamshells and retail bags; get your orders in as they are moving fast. Check out Josie’s Organics Chopped Salad available in three different mixes: Asian, Southwest and Sweet Kale. These are a staff favorite and perfect for fresh-cut and grab n’ go displays.
Choice orange bells are gapping in supply but there is plenty of large and extra-large available at a higher price. Red bells are experiencing some fluctuations in price but with several growers on the market, there should be no impact on supply. Green and yellow bells are in good supply. Chili peppers are feeling the heat with limited supply of poblanos and serrano peppers. However, anaheims and jalapenos are steady.
The ginger market is tightening and Peruvian yellow ginger prices are going up. Thai ginger, also known as galangal, from Hawaiian grower Kolo Kai, is in better supply. Turmeric is high in demand this year for its myriad of health benefits. Often added to juices, tonics and food, turmeric has dozens of great medicinal and cooking uses. Supply is strong from Hawaiian growers with red, white and yellow varieties available.
Roots are holding steady with many specialty roots available including: parsnip, rutabaga, beets, daikon, turnips, horseradish and celery root. Spruce up your root display by offering some lesser known varieties and educating customers on how to clean and prepare different varieties. Our current favorite is celery root–peeled, boiled and mashed with Yukon potatoes and a generous helping of butter!
Sunflower sprout production is slow due to recent stormy weather. We expect limited availability and gaps in supply. Alfalfa, mung bean, pea shoot and wheatgrass sprouts are in better supply. Did you know mung beans are the most widely consumed sprout? Common in Asian dishes, mung beans can be enjoyed raw or cooked.
Yellow squash and other specialty soft squash are very limited with high pricing. Zucchini has more availability but prices remain high. Acorn and delicata squash are done for the season. Butternut and Kabocha remain in good supply. We may be seeing some more spaghetti squash, but no visibility on timing just yet.
Prices on one and two layer tomatoes are very attractive with strong supply from Tasti-Lee and Nature’s Nectar. Quality is high; these tomatoes are juicy and sweet at peak ripeness. Try adding these to your ad program for a robust tomato special. We also have sharp pricing on tomatoes-on-vine (TOV) grown in Arizona from Wholesum Harvest. Don’t wait on these since prices may creep up! Romas are slightly limited but we expect availability to ease up and prices to adjust accordingly. Red cherry and sugar plum tomatoes are holding steady.
We offer a full line of fruits and vegetables prepared in a variety of ways—peeled, cubed, julienned, sliced and more! Stay ahead of trends by making sure your store, deli and walk-ins are stocked appropriately to take advantage of increased demand for convenience items. Talk to your Account Manager to see how we can support your value-added program.
Joyloop packaged fresh-cut vegetables are great additions to any store. They offer sweet potato spirals, sweet potato “rice” as well as zucchini spirals and cauliflower “rice.” All varieties are great alternatives to traditional pasta or grains and have a shelf life of 10-12 days. Each 8 x 8 ounce bag is approximately 2-3 cups of veggies. These are great items to promote and have on stock as customers are looking for easier ways to eat healthy.
Maple products are predicted to be at the top of food trends this year. We are currently offering a full line of delicious maple products including maple syrup in various size packs, maple sugar candy, and even whipped maple cream (great on toast, pancakes, yogurt and more!) All products are certified organic and great to have through the winter months. The products are sourced from Maple Valley Co-op, a producer co-op modeled after famed Organic Valley. If you need a healthy sweet treat, maple is the way to go. Ask your Account Manager for the details.
With tulips in bloom, it’s time to refresh your floral department. Thomas Farm has beautiful seasonal bouquets that include tulips, Pink Ice, plus various protea and greens. Thomas Farm tulips are also available as straight packs. Full Belly Farm is also coming on with tulips that are available in 6 count bunches. This is just the beginning of their fresh floral program so stay tuned! Full Belly dried bouquets are still available without a pre-order, get one today!
Tips for Your Floral Department
It is fairly common to walk into a store and see a floral department. However, it is less common to find a floral department with organic flowers. Why carry organic flowers? The answer is simple. The two complement each other perfectly. They work together in nature to provide a functioning eco-system for the land and the insects. Your produce department already carries organic produce because of your commitment to sustainability and the environment, supporting organic flowers is the logical next step. Conventional flower farming is a huge cause of soil erosion, it also calls for the use of exorbitant amounts of pesticides and fertilizers to keep those blooms perfect. Why would you want to carry those toxic flowers in the same place you sell stellar organic produce?
So where do you start? We work with two great farms that can help provide you with beautiful flowers all year long. Full Belly Farm, located in the Capay Valley provides us with fresh mixed seasonal and single flower bouquets, like ranunculus. They have been growing flowers just as long as they have been growing their wonderful organic produce. Full Belly starts their flower season in March and goes through October with their fresh cut flowers. Thomas Farm is another grower that we partner with. Thomas is located in Aptos which has a micro climate that allows them to provide flowers all year.
There is more to a floral department than just fresh flowers. There are also fresh potted herbs, garden starts, seeds, house plants and dried flowers. The question is just how big do you want you to start with your program? To be successful, time and resources are needed to keep the department fresh and appealing. Even more than produce, flowers and plants are highly perishable. The success of a floral department is dependent on four areas: margin, floral prep, live plants and dry floral.
Floral is a convenience you are providing for your customers. Unlike produce, it’s not a necessity so the margin on floral is usually lower to encourage movement of the product. Generally, a floral margin is between 24%-35%. Whether you have a higher or lower margin depends on how much labor you want to put into the department. Let’s look at some of the labor variables that will determine margin.
Pre-made bouquets are a little less work because they come already arranged. Ideally these bouquets go straight out to the floor with no work. At night, the bouquets should be pulled and stored in the cooler. In the morning before they go back out to the floor, trim the bottoms and refresh the water buckets. Pull out any wilted or unattractive foliage.
Another option is to make your own arrangements. There are several floral markets that provide loose buckets of flowers that allow you creative freedom to make your own bouquets. This is more labor intensive and would require a higher margin to account for the extra labor. As with the pre-made, these flowers will need daily fresh water, trimming and culling and cooler storage at night. Displays that are kept fresh and appear abundant are more attractive to the eye, which encourages sales.
Now that we have discussed the basics of fresh cut flowers let’s move on to live plant care and up keep. There is one very important thing to consider when thinking about carrying potted herbs and garden starts. Where will you be merchandising these items? Will you have space outside or only indoors? These types of plants have different light needs than house plants. If these garden plants (which are meant to live outside in the ground) will only be merchandised inside, it might be best to keep the amounts you bring in to smaller more frequent delivers. Otherwise you run the risk of having plants that do not get enough sunlight for too long and they could begin to get spindly and start to suffer. If you will have a space out in front of the store, you can feel free to order more heavily as the natural light environment will sustain them longer. Plants kept outside will also need daily watering were as plants kept inside will only need water when they start to feel slightly dry. House plants are generally low maintenance and low labor. The main concern with these plants is knowing your plants watering requirements. Do they like to be dry or do they prefer damp soil? If you’re not sure, a quick google search can help you find out.
Dry floral includes seeds, dry bouquets and wreaths. These are very low labor and low maintenance items. With these items, you just want to maintain adequate amounts and attractively display them. Most seed companies will provide you with a display rack of some sort. The trick is just finding a place that attracts attention to the seeds but is not on the way of customer shopping flow.
Now that you have the basics and an idea of where to start, let’s build a floral department! Veritable Vegetable has a floral Account Manager that can help you get started and keep you provided with fresh floral deliveries. If you are interested in starting an organic flower program, contact your Account Manager to get started. If you need further help, our Merchandisers can help you out and help with some in store set up and consultation.