Artichoke: California’s Official Vegetable

 

On April 10, 2013, artichokes were named California’s official vegetable. For some, artichokes can be intimidating, but for ‘choke lovers and growers, there is no better vegetable!

The artichoke is a perennial vegetable in the sunflower family. It is believed to be native to the Mediterranean and Canary Islands. The “vegetable” that we eat is actually the plant’s flower bud. There are more than 140 artichoke varieties but fewer than 40 are grown commercially. 100% of all artichokes grown commercially in the U.S. are grown in California. Artichokes grown worldwide are cultivated in France, Italy, and Spain.

In the fall and winter, artichokes are often “frost-kissed” due to exposure to frost when the temperature drops below 32 degrees. While the outside petals may have some browning, “frost-kissed” artichokes take on an intense nutty flavor that is truly delicious.

To prepare, wash artichokes under cold, running water. Pull off the lower petals and cut off the bottom stem.  Cut off about 1/2 inch of the pointed top of the artichoke. Trim the tips of the leaves with scissors to remove thorns. Since artichokes oxidize, dip in lemon juice to preserve the color. Remember to use a stainless-steel knife and pot. Iron or aluminum (including foil!) will cause artichokes to turn blue or black.

Once cleaned, artichokes can be grilled, steamed, boiled, and even fried. No matter the preparation, keep it simple to allow the flavor to shine. There is deliciousness to be found in the soft pulpy portion of the petals, and the entire heart or bottom is edible.

 

Keep a lookout for our staff picks noted in orange.

 

Fruit

Apple and Pear

Cameo and Fuji have strong supply with promotable pricing. Sharp pricing on smaller sizes of Washington Extra Fancy Gala. Prices are up on premium grades. Granny Smith is steady. Limited availability on Orins imported from Canada.

Bartlett from Argentina have arrived! Red Bartlett are close behind. Red D’Anjou are winding down, sizes are limited. The last of the Bosc are in-house.

Avocado

Price are going up again, particularly on 48s and larger sizes. #2s are somewhat limited due to rain.

Berry

California strawberries were rained out last week, but with dry days and warmer nights on the horizon, supply is quickly picking up again. Blackberry supply appears to be steady. Raspberry supply is tight. Blueberry production has slowed but should not impact supply.

Citrus

Blood oranges are winding down, but we have plenty on hand. More growers have come on with California Valencias, keeping supply steady. Mexican Valencia are continuing until the end of April or into May. Cara Cara Navels are plentiful. Navels from Buck Brand are still going, but the end is near, so get these while you can!

African Shaddock pomelo are just about done. Choice fruit is available at a great price. Ruby grapefruit is readily available.

The lime market will remain tight until the new crop comes on in May. Expect more price increases. Lemons are in better supply and readily available, especially larger size fruit. Meyer lemons are plentiful.

Pixie tangerines are in good supply. Golden Nuggets are winding down and Murcotts are still available for a couple more weeks. Minneolas from Pauma Valley Citrus are done, but we have more delicious fruit from Fruit World. This grower leaves the fruit on the trees for as long as possible to maximize the flavor! As a result of this ripening process, some pieces may have a little softness.  The last of Royal mandarins from B&J Ranch are in-house.

Meiwa and Nagami kumquats have sharp pricing.

 

Vegetables

Artichoke

Heavy frost followed by rain in California’s desert and Central Coast growing regions earlier this month caused some shortages in supply. However, conditions have improved and supply is starting to pick up. We should still see strong numbers on 24-count and 12-count as we head into Easter weekend. 18-count sizes are more limited.

Asparagus

While there is plenty of green asparagus available, harvests have been difficult thanks to the rain. With the weather drying up this week, supply should become steadier. Pricing is steady. Purple asparagus is arriving any day now!

Broccoli/Cauliflower

Broccoli supply is expected to be relatively steady as long as the rain holds off. We do not anticipate any gaps but prices are creeping up. Look for broccolette, a.k.a. baby broccoli, coming soon. Cauliflower is limited but should be steady.

Cabbage

Red and green cabbage are steady. Savoy cabbage is in good supply. Napa is limited and prices are very high.

Cucumber

Persian cucumber has abundant supply. Prices are sharp! Slicer cucumbers are steady; prices are expected hold. Strong prices on English Hothouse.

Greens, Lettuce & Herbs

This is the last week boxed greens are harvested out of the desert. As of April 1st, all our growers will be harvesting from the Huron or Salinas regions. The first week or two could see some minor issues, but things should be hitting a nice plateau after that, provided there are no major weather events. Rain disrupted much of the mid-week harvests for bunched greens. However, with a dry weekend, local and Central Valley supply should bounce back. Kale, collards, and rainbow chard are readily available. Local supply of fennel is strong.

Last week’s rain caused some shortages in the lettuce market, but most varieties are back in supply. Iceberg is extremely limited. Romaine heart supply remains tight but is expected to improve starting next week.

Tomatero Farm has come on with basil grown in Watsonville, California. As it is very early in the local season, prices are high. Supply is not yet steady. Dill is gapping due to rain-related quality issues.

Onion

Yellow storage onions are finishing up for the season. Mexican product is available now and domestic new crop onions are just expected to come on in mid-April. Domestic red onions should continue for a couple more weeks. Mexican crop is ready to come anytime, so there should be no interruption is supply. New crop white onions from Mexico are steady. There may be light green veining on the whites, which is normal for new crop and does not affect taste or quality. Shallots are winding down but should continue through April.

Pea

Snap peas are limited in the market, but we have plenty on hand to cover your pea needs. Snow peas are steady while English peas remain limited.

Pepper

Prices are up on green bell peppers. Orange bells are limited. Red bells are steady, Jalapeños are limited; prices are on the rise. Poblanos are gapping. Prices on sweet minis are also up.

Potato

Russets are extremely tight. Red and yellow California new crop is expected to come in early April. Buttercream potatoes are readily available with promotable pricing. This specialty spud is small with golden skin, yellow flesh and a smooth, buttery flavor. At around 1 to 2 inches in diameter, these tasty little potatoes are excellent boiled, steamed, or baked. We wouldn’t recommend them for salads, as the texture is soft and tends to disintegrate.

Root

Parsnips are finishing up for the season; sizing is limited. Rutabaga still has decent supply. Turnip still has supply, but availability is less and less as the season winds down. Jicama has arrived! They are tasting great—sweet, juicy, and crunchy!

Squash

Zucchini prices are coming down quickly. Straightneck squash appears to be steady. Butternut supply is almost done and Mexican supply is limited for another couple of weeks. Small amounts of Delicata and Kabocha still available.

Tomato

The first California heirlooms have come on from Wilgenburg Greenhouses out of Dinuba, California. Varieties include Red Oxheart, Purple Cherokee and Brandywine. Prices will be high at the start of the season. After a short gap, sweet grape tomatoes in compostable fiber baskets are back! Roma tomatoes are in better supply after several weeks of tightness.

 

Grocery

Have you tried juices from Voilà Juices yet? This producer was established in Berkeley, California during the summer of 1978. Partners Gary Boland and Dale Allen had a following from appreciative customers who lined up to buy one of their fresh-squeezed juices and smoothie blends. The business grew from a cart to a converted tool shed behind the house they were renting and eventually into a much larger facility. Gary Boland, one of the original partners, still runs his business with the same mission he had from the beginning: to offer his customers quality and fresh products that not only taste delicious, but are healthy too. Voilà offers a wide variety of juices including classics such as apple, orange, lime, and lemon as well as more creative blends including: raspberry lemonade, apple raspberry, pineapple coconut, and more.

Check out organic, soy-free, pasture-raised eggs from Rockside Ranch, based out of California’s Scott Valley. This 100-acre farm works with a variety of heritage-breed hens to produce organic pasture-raised and soy-free eggs. The hens live outside with easy access to shelter. They are moved multiple times each week throughout their pasture during spring, summer, and fall. Rockside offers farm programs for at-risk youths and rehabilitated individuals to work on the farm and learn the trade.

 

Floral

Mixed bouquets from Thomas Farm are looking beautiful as they continue to add more color to their bunches! Look for Dutch Iris coming soon!  Full Belly Farm is offering straight packs of Anemone and Ranunculus. Mixed bouquets from this farm are still a few weeks out.

 

Merchandising Corner

How to Engage Staff

Empowering your team to give excellent customer service sounds like an overwhelming task. What do you do? Where do you start? It’s not just as simple as saying to your team “Get out there and talk to customers! Let’s boost our sells and let’s be engaging!” You need to provide your staff with the tools to do this. Here are a few quick things you can do to get the customer service ball rolling with your crew and give them the confidence to engage with customers.

Giving your team information to talk about and share with customers is the best place to start. When your staff is armed with information, they have the confidence to answer questions and start up conversations. Customers respond well to knowing more about the food they are purchasing. You can’t always rely on the customer to ask questions, and sometimes you will also have staff that are shy and need pointers on how to strike up conversations.

So how do you encourage and create easy opportunities for staff to engage with customers?  A great place to start is by sampling product. Simply walking around the department and offering berries or cutting up an apple as they are stocking the display is an easy way to share information about the grower and talk about the product. An easy way to give your staff the information they need is to take a minute to do some research. Print out the information about the product and the farm growing the product that you want the staff to talk about and sample. Do group huddles with your opening and closing crews to go over and discuss the new information. Clearly explain your expectation that they share this information with customers. Having the information displayed in their work space and easily accessible keeps the info fresh in their mind and allows them to easily reference the material.  Making this a part of your daily or weekly routine with your crew will over time create a strong, confident, and well- informed team. The more positive interactions your staff have after sharing what they have learned with customers, the more it will help build excitement and job satisfaction. This is key in keeping staff excited to learn, share, and keep selling.

Once your staff is armed with an arsenal of information and techniques, they will have everything they need to provide customers with a memorable shopping experience. This will create loyal repeat shoppers. Providing your team with the information and skills to be engaging is a win for the store, staff, and customers!