I Yam What I Yam

For most of us, yams and sweet potatoes (shown above) are confusing. Are they the same? Are they different? We’re here to set the record straight: sweet potatoes are not a type of yam, and yams are not a type of sweet potato. They are both tuberous root vegetables that come from a flowering plant, but they are not related.

A yam is a starchy root of the Dioscorea genus that is native to Africa and Asia. They are cylindrical in shape and have rough brownish bark-like skin. The flesh is white, purple or reddish. Compared to sweet potatoes, yams are lower in beta carotene, starchier and drier.

The sweet potato is part of the morning glory family. There are several varieties and the flesh and skin ranges in color from white to yellow to orange to purple. They have an elongated shape with tapered ends. The varieties can be grouped together into two major types; (1) firm, which have golden skin and paler flesh or (2) soft, which have copper skin and orange flesh. The firm variety was the first to be produced in the U.S., so when “soft” sweet potatoes began to be produced commercially, there was a need to differentiate it from its firm counterpart. Since the “soft” sweet potatoes slightly resemble true yams, the name was picked up and became what you see commonly labeled as “yams” in grocery stores.

In summary, know what kind of sweet potato you want for your recipe, and be alert to the yam/sweet potato labeling concept. More importantly, don’t be afraid to examine the vegetables, look at the color of the skin and the flesh and ask questions!

 

Keep a lookout for our staff picks noted in orange.

 

Fruit

Apple and Pear

It’s a great time to be an apple-lover—lots of varieties available including some of our favorite heirlooms! Spitzenburgs have rich, fruity aromatic flavor and crisp flesh. This heirloom was discovered in upstate New York in the early 1700s. It is rumored to be Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple as it was found growing in his orchards at Monticello. Spitzenburg is a great dessert apple and often a favorite at Christmas time. Arkansas Black have started, but supply is very limited and prices high. This heirloom variety dates back to the 1870s. It has a lively red color that deepens to purplish-black when ripe. Prices are coming down on Ashmead Kernel’s, Golden Grimes and King David. We’re expecting to see Winesap come on soon in limited amounts! Now is the time to try the heirloom varieties before they’re gone!  The Kanzi is a staff favorite. It is a cross between a tangy sweet Braeburn and a juicy Gala with attractive red and yellow coloring. Opals are here in all their juicy, crispy, delicious glory. The bright yellow skin adds a pop to any apple display. Did we mention it resists oxidation so is less likely to brown after slicing? Great pallet deals on the Gala 113 count and large Fuji apple bins! We’re your premiere apple resource this season. Check in with your Account Manager to discuss and plan for your apple needs.

We’re seeing large volume and promotable pricing on Barlett pears. Bosc is readily available—inquire about pallet deals! Comice have come on; quality is spot on. The fruit is clean with a slight blush. Pocket size Seckels are here. The small size makes these ideal for lunch boxes, garnishes, canning whole and more!

Avocado

Hass prices from Mexico continue to slide down on small fruit. 40s and larger fruit are very limited and much more expensive than 48s. Expect California grown green-skin Zutano any day now. They will run large sizes, since they will be size-picked as fruit matures on the tree.

Berry

Rain in Northern California has shutdown most strawberry supply in the region. Expect prices to be high. Chilean blueberry prices remain high but supply has been steady. Mexican blueberry season should start in December. Mexican blackberry season has started but supply is limited. We’re offering cranberry in clamshells, cello bags, and bulk packs.

Citrus

Valencia demand is strong and prices expected to remain firm. Hurricane Irma affected Florida’s citrus supply earlier this fall, impacting Mexican and California supply now. There is some California fruit available but early Mexican fruit is not expected to come on until around Thanksgiving. It’s still early in the Navel season and we can expect supply to improve. Cara Cara Navels should be here towards the end of the month. Grapefruit prices have come down. Pomelos have come on early and are available. Satsuma tangerines are very tight in supply. More growers should come on mid-month and fruit will be more readily available. Clementine and Fairchild tangerines are starting up right after Thanksgiving. Look for the highly coveted 5-pound Clementine gift boxes! We will probably not see any Minneola until mid-December.

Date

We have a wide selection of dates but our favorite has the be the Medjool date. Often considered “nature’s power fruit,” Medjool dates are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They have even been proven to decrease cholesterol and boost bone health. Dates are the edible fruit of the date palm tree. Their sweet taste makes them the perfect natural sweeteners and sugar alternative. Other dates options on our list include Almond Nugget, Coco Roll, Pecan Nugget, Walnut Roll and the popular date paste.

Grape

We’re approaching the end of the season for grapes, supply has tightened and prices are up. Black seedless has the steadiest volume but price has still increased. Green grapes are more limited and prices are quite firm. Red grapes are very limited as growers wait for the grapes to color up.

Mango

Tommy Atkins and Ataulfo mango have strong supply. The two varieties could not be more different in shape and size but both offer sweet tropical reprieve during the winter months. We like freezing cut up chunks to conveniently add to smoothies!

Melon

The Mexican melon season is ramping up. Mini seedless watermelon is steady. Plenty of specialty melons available including Cantaloupe, Crenshaw, Piel de Sapo and Orange Honeydew. Honeydew should be coming on soon to join the ranks.

Persimmon

Fuyu persimmons have good volume. Volume-fill packs are available at sharp pricing. This variety tastes great when fresh and firm. Hachiyas are steady but a bit more limited. Let this variety ripen until it’s soft and plump before enjoying! Hachiya is great for baking. Try a persimmon pie this Thanksgiving for a unique and tasty dessert.

Pomegranate

Pomegranate supply is strong and steady. 36 count size fruit is gapping in supply. Check out the pom bins for a great volume deal.

Specialty Fruit

Mark Twain once called the cherimoya “the most delicious fruit known to men.” This tropical fruit is also known as a custard apple. On the outside, it is green, scaly and sometimes heart or conical shaped. On the inside, however, the creamy white flesh tastes like a blend of banana, pineapple, papaya and peach. Some prefer to chill the fruit and eat it with a spoon, earning it the nickname, the ice cream fruit. Jujube (also known as the Chinese date) are here in limited quantities. The fruit is green when immature but ripens to brown to purplish black coloring when mature. Quince, the quirky fruit, is readily available. Completely inedible raw, quince is best for cooked dishes, and provides natural pectin for firming up home-made pie, jelly, and chutney. We love the delicate fragrance of vanilla, citrus and apple it releases when left out at room temperature. Replace your candles with a handful of quince fruit this holiday season! Currently we have good supply of white-flesh dragon fruit, at a really sharp price.

 

Nuts

Chestnuts from Heath Ranch are available in 5-pound mesh bags. They are jumbo size and gorgeous! We also have a variety of nuts, ideal for any festive occasion: several types of almond, cashew, walnut and a nut mix. Check our availability list for more information.

 

Vegetables

Artichoke

Artichokes are steady but larger size ‘chokes have tightened up a bit. Rodoni Farms artichokes have been loving the colder weather coming through California’s Santa Cruz area—it’s brings out the nutty flavor!

Bean

Green beans are readily available with strong quality. Rundle Family Farm’s crop was damaged by early frost and will likely be very limited this season. However, we’ll have steady supply from Orange County Organics so do not anticipate any gaps or shortages.

Broccoli/Cauliflower

Broccoli prices are coming down fast as desert and Mexican production has started up.  Northern California producers are trying to close down their coolers and move entirely to desert production. There is plenty of broccoli available at sharp prices as we head into Thanksgiving. The cauliflower market is also sliding. Prices have dropped and supply is strong.

Brussels Sprout

We’ve got your Brussels needs covered this season. Supply is plentiful and quality high—we’re seeing bright, clean sprouts with no aphids. Keep this popular veggie stocked through Thanksgiving and Christmas! Consider adding to your promotions between holidays to keep sales steady.

Carrot

Juice carrot supply remains tight. Rainbow bulk carrots are steady. Bunched carrots are in good supply. Jumbo carrots are gapping.

Celery

Although it was looking like a tight celery market going into Thanksgiving, conditions have fully come around. With so much celery out there, we are confident that we have some of the best quality and one of the best prices available in the Bay Area.

Cucumber

Persian cucumbers are limited. We’re seeing small amounts of Persian clamshells available. Slicer cucumbers have better availability from Fair Trade certified producer, Rico Farms in Mexico. English Hothouse prices are coming down.

Garlic and Ginger

Few holiday dishes don’t benefit from a little garlic. Expect shopper demand to increase in the coming weeks. Fortunately, garlic has good volume and should be steady. Turmeric from our Hawaiian grower, Kolo Kai has arrived! Supply should be steady through January. Turmeric has high anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. As health continues to be a trend among consumers this year and into next, make sure your turmeric is always stocked!

Greens, Lettuce & Herbs

Our greens suppliers are currently transitioning their fields from the coastal and Salinas Valley regions to the desert regions of California and Arizona. Historically, the transition period has brought some challenges in availability and quality. However, our diverse mix of suppliers should keep us in good supply through the transition. Bunched kale and chards are readily available; quality is high. Lots of collards out there. Romaine lettuce is in tight supply and prices are up. Several of our local California growers are waiting for their lettuce to size up. Just in—holiday mix herbs in bunches and clamshells! The holiday herb mix is a warm, woodsy combination of rosemary, sage, savory, and thyme. These are the go-to herbs traditionally used during the winter holidays for roasted meats, dressing & stuffing, and side dishes.

Mushroom

‘Tis the season for mushrooms! Our list includes your classic ‘shrooms: Crimini, Portabella, White, Shiitake, Beech and Oyster as well as specialty wild varieties like Maitake, Matsutake, Porcini,Trumpet and Black Trumpet. These varieties are limited so talk to your Account Manager early! We also have Chanterelles and Lion’s Mane which are preorder only. Be sure to get your order in at least 2 days before need the items. It’s no surprise if you have not heard of Lion’s Mane. They are not your classic looking cap and stem variety. These globular shaped mushrooms have cascading teeth-like spines. From these spines, white spores emerge. They resemble the white pom-pom used by cheerleaders. The mushroom is 20% protein and can sometimes taste like lobster or shrimp! Many wait all year for it (we certainly do!)—truffles are in season. White, Winter Black and Burgundy truffles are available by the ounce.

Onions

With the holidays upon us, it goes without saying that onions are on everyone’s shopping list. From white to yellow to red, sweet to sweeter, we have you covered. Volume is strong—talk to your Account Manager about prebuilt pallet deals—mix and match onion varieties! Plenty of shallot on hand. Red and yellow Cipollini are readily available. Pearl onions are likely going to be unavailable this season, however gold boilers make a great substitute for those looking onions in a small size.

Pea

Snap peas are extremely tight right now. California growers are gapping in supply due to quality issues and Mexico growers is just starting up.

Pepper

Red and green bell peppers are readily available. Orange and yellow bell peppers are very limited as Mexico supply is not quite ready yet. Jalapenos are becoming more available—expect prices to come down. Poblano, Serrano and Anaheim peppers all have some limited availability. Sweet peppers are still hard to come by.

Potato

In potato-land, conditions are favorable. We have lots of variety, supply is strong and prices are low. Russet potatoes are steady and have dropped in price. Pallet deals are available on yellow potatoes. If you haven’t shopped our specialty potatoes selection yet, now is the time! We have fingerlings in every color—perfect for roasting! Creamy Huckleberry Gold, vibrant purple potatoes round out the collection.

Squash

Zucchini prices trended down as a result of more Mexican product coming on the market. Specialty soft squash from California growers is winding down for the season. We have lots of hard squash on hand for your holiday needs! Butternut is readily available in multiple sizes. Carnival squash is winding down. New to the squash family is the Goldetti, an orange spaghetti with beautiful color and sharp pricing! Did you know we sell mixed and straight bins of hard squash? Mix bins may contain Acorn, Butternut, Delicata, Kabocha, Spaghetti, or Sugar Pie Pumpkin. Custom mixes are available upon request. All bins are preorder only so don’t wait!

Sweet Potato

Everyone needs sweet potatoes for the holidays. This is a great time to introduce customers to varieties that they may not be familiar with. We are offering Garnets, Hannah Sweet, Japanese Sweet, Jewel and Purple Stokes at competitive prices and large volume. Cut some up on your tasting table to show each varieties’ colorful flesh. Samples and recipes are also helpful. Did you know we offer prebuilt pallets of any combination of these five varieties? Talk to your Account Manager for holiday planning and volume deals.

Tomato

Heirlooms are done for the season. Roma tomatoes are a little tight. Cherry tomatoes have limited availability. It’s the time in the season when California growers are finishing up and Mexico comes on some blips in supply are expected. One and two-layer slicer are in good supply.

 

Dried Fruit

No holiday is complete with dried fruit! We have delicious dried jujube, dried persimmon from Biodynamic producer Beck Grove, and dried pitted prunes. Let’s not forget about the sweet, delicious Biodynamic Thompson raisins from Marian Farms. The raisins are lightly sprayed with certified organic safflower oil to prevent clumping and makes for easy pouring and scooping.

 

Grocery and Dairy

Did you know that Straus Family Creamery offers eggnog through the holiday season? If you haven’t tried their old fashion eggnog you’re missing out. This delicious beverage is only available for the holiday season. It never disappoints, as a matter of fact, their eggnog is rather addictive!

 

Floral

All fresh flowers from Full Belly Farm and straight packs from Thomas Farm are officially done for the season. Thomas Farm will continue to offer seasonal mixed bouquets. However, with the change of the seasons, we’re excited to reintroduce dried bouquets and dried wreaths from Full Belly Farm. Dried wreaths are sold individually—each one is unique and different! Dried bouquets are sold in 6 counts. Dried floral arrangements are great centerpieces and gifts for the holidays.

 

Merchandising Corner

Thanksgiving Displays

Now that the holidays are fast approaching, it is time to start thinking about your holiday displays. Items like Garnet sweet potatoes, yellow onions, Russet potatoes and Butternut squash are all items that you can start stocking up on now and increasing their display size. Not only will this encourage more sales by providing the larger displays but you can also start to claim your holiday space and begin to plan for the week before the Thanksgiving shopping surge. The five days right before the big holiday is the time you really want to expand your displays on all heavily in demand Thanksgiving items. During this small window of time your department will sell anywhere from 10 to 50 times the normal amount on items like: celery, parsley, brussels sprouts, thyme, rosemary, cranberries, chestnuts, Pink Lady and Granny Smith apples, Garnet sweet potatoes, Russets, Yukons, carrots, yellow onions, Butternut and other winter hard squash. A department that does around $40,000 a week might want to consider bringing in a half pallet of Garnets and building a big impressive display to promote sales and do the same with yellow onions. If your weekly department sales are more around $60,000, you could easily move a full pallet of those two products.

Since the few days before Thanksgiving is such a hectic time, think about some short cuts you can make that will save you and your staff time. For instance, don’t spend time prepping your celery. Products like this will be moving so fast that you will be not only saving time but you’ll be able to keep the product stocked out on the floor more consistently. You might consider the same thing with your parsley and any bunched greens you may be stocking during those few days. Any time you can save yourself in the backroom is more time you and your staff can spend out on the floor providing customer service and making sure the department looks good. Keeping the department full and having staff to help customers will make a huge difference in your sales volume.

If you are lucky enough to work in a store with a deli, chances are they will be running a holiday menu. It is a good idea to get some of the recipes for popular side dishes and desserts printed out and placed around the produce department.  Customers are always looking for great new ways to prepare their favorite produce items. If you don’t have a deli to partner with you can always look up some recipes on line yourself like roasted brussels sprouts with bacon, stuffed acorn squash, wild rice with cranberries and chestnuts or even the traditional standard sweet potatoes with marshmallows. There are always people who appreciate recipes and will gladly use them. Now get out there and take on the holiday!

 

 

 

 

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