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Commodity promotion board being explored for asparagus

by Tim Linden | August 22, 2011

Much like the sellers of Hass avocados and mangos, the many different suppliers of asparagus sold in the United States are currently talking about putting together a federal promotion program for asparagus.

The idea is in its early stages, but a Washington, DC, lobbyist is working on the concept, and Peruvian asparagus importers, most of which also handle grass from Mexico, are aware of the idea and seem to support it.

Xavier Equihua of the Federal Strategies Group Inc. in Washington, DC, confirmed that he is working on a federal promotion board proposal that would include all asparagus sold in the United States. He was reluctant to discuss the proposal, but he did say that he developed the Hass avocado promotion program and worked on the national mango promotion when those two orders were working their way through the regulatory process.

Mike Parr, president of Team Produce International Inc. in Miami, said, “I have heard about it, and I understand the promotion board would collect money from the importers and use it to promote asparagus. The idea is in its initial stages. Right now, [the industry is] exploring where we go from here. I think it could be a good thing for the industry. Production is increasing, and we need to keep up demand. The idea has worked with other products.”

Mr. Parr said that he understands it is a fairly long process to establish such a board, so he does not expect it will have an impact for several more years.

Walter Yager, president of Alpine Fresh Inc. in Miami and East Coast Chairman of the Peruvian Asparagus Importers Association, also confirmed that the idea is being tossed around. “As an association, we have been talking about it, and the idea is to include asparagus from all sources.”

He said that the concept has been gaining momentum recently and that the PAIA hopes to be involved in a meeting during the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit convention in October that would bring suppliers from all asparagus districts together to discuss the idea. Priscilla Lleras, PAIA coordinator, said that the group will have its annual meting during the Fresh Summit convention, and discussion of the establishment of a federal promotion program is on the agenda.

All the other Peruvian asparagus handlers with whom The Produce News spoke agreed that the idea has merit.

“I have missed the last couple of meetings of PAIA, so I am not sure exactly where it is right now,” said Don Hessell, general manager of the asparagus program for Progressive Produce in Los Angeles and Keystone Fruit Marketing in Greencastle, PA. “The idea is that it will help us create demand for asparagus. I like it.”

Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for Southern Specialties in Pompano Beach, FL, said, “We work closely with promotions boards for several other commodities. We would not be adverse to a promotion program for asparagus.”

Mexico and Peru are major exporters of asparagus to the United States and account for more than 90 percent of the U.S. imported asparagus volume each year. Last year, suppliers from the two countries sent over 370 million pounds of asparagus to the United States. California and Washington are the two top producers of domestic asparagus.