Interest in Asian produce expected to continue during the Year of the Rabbit
by Lora Abcarian | January 12, 2011
The Year of the Tiger is preparing to give way to the Year of the Rabbit with
the commencement of Chinese New Year on Feb. 3, and U.S. produce
marketers are looking to capitalize on the growing interest in Asian specialty
Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Melissa's/World Variety
Produce in Los Angeles, said that fortune is smiling on the Year of the Rabbit.
"This is the time of year when Americans are eating healthier," he told The
Produce News. “Chinese New Year has become an Americanized holiday.”
Melissa’s offers a substantial variety of fresh vegetables, fruits and value-
added products. The company markets familiar products such as garlic and
ginger in a variety of forms. But Melissa’s extensive line of Asian produce
includes staples such as Chinese celery, dried mushrooms, bamboo shoots,
baby corn, banana leaves, daikon radish and bitter melon.
According to Mr. Schueller, the company’s “Asian Essentials” line, launched in
2010, has been highly successful. Convenient one-pound clamshells are
available for Napa cabbage leaves, bok choy leaves, Shanghai leaves, petite
Shanghai and gai lan.
These products may not be as familiar to non-Asian consumers. But Mr.
Schueller said that the tide is turning among this market sector now that
consumers are increasingly interested in healthy cuisines.
“Americans have been eating take-out Chinese forever,” he commented. “But
they don’t necessarily know what they’re eating.”
The current recession has more Americans eating at home and trying their
hand at Asian cooking. Interest has been bolstered by positive dining
experiences in restaurants and by increased viewership of television cooking
Melissa’s has developed a number of recipes to post on product packaging
and to print on its web site, thereby giving anyone with an interest in Asian
produce an opportunity to experiment. “The Asian culture of foods is
becoming more popular,” he added.
And Mr. Schueller said that Americans are increasingly learning about the
interchangeability of their favorite produce for an Asian equivalent. For
example, “Asian eggplant can be substituted for Italian eggplant,” he said, and
bok choy can also be used in place of traditional cabbage.
“There needs to be more education about eating these vegetables,” he added.
Mr. Schueller praised retailers for their interest in promoting Asian produce.
“Retailers do a good job of introducing more varieties to see if they will stick,”
And the Year of the Rabbit will be propitious because Feb. 3 occurs between
Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine’s Day, giving retailers an additional
opportunity with consumers.
Melissa’s has created a Chinese New Year’s kit — with signage, danglers and
recipes — to help retailers make their promotions a success.
Asian fruits are also incorporated in meal planning or given as gifts because
they bring good luck, abundant life, joy or fortune. Buddha’s Hand, a fragrant
citron fruit with finger-like projections, for example, is a gift of good luck.
Melissa’s markets a wide variety of additional value-added products such as
egg roll wrappers, Asian noodles, kim chee and tofu.
Patsy Ross, marketing director for Christopher Ranch LLC in Gilroy, CA, said
that the company offers a host of products designed to complement Chinese
New Year, with ginger being a key item. The firm markets up to 1 million
pounds of the commodity annually.
“Hawaiian ginger has just started,” she told The Produce News Jan. 6. “It looks
good, and we will continue in the Hawaiian ginger through June. We also
source ginger from other growing areas like Brazil, Thailand, Costa Rica and
In addition to fresh-packed ginger, the company features four value-added
ginger products: a 4.25-ounce chopped ginger, a nine-ounce chopped
ginger, a 4.25-ounce ginger-garlic stir fry and 4.25-ounce organic chopped
Christopher Ranch has staked its reputation on quality garlic. “We handle
garlic from other growing regions as demanded by our customer base, mostly
distributors,” Ms. Ross said. “Most of the retail chains prefer the California
heirloom garlic we have year round. We grow, pack and ship approximately 60
million pounds of fresh California heirloom garlic annually. Imports are a very
small percentage of our business.”
Ms. Ross expects that demand for California garlic will increase this year as a
result of short supplies of Chinese garlic.
In addition to ginger and garlic, Christopher Ranch handles dried chili
peppers, shallots, pearl onions, cipolline onions, elephant garlic and boiler
The company’s client base is evenly distributed between retail and
“Our retail and foodservice customers are the experts in marketing to their
consumer base,” she said. “We partner with them for the most effective