Christopher Ranch says food trends moving fresh produce to the center of the table

Flavor is uppermost in the minds of consumers who want to serve their families and friends memorable meals. But food movements today, such as the Obama administration’s nutritional initiatives, along with other programs developed to help fight obesity and increase nutrition, are also causing trends to focus on produce.

Patsy Ross, marketing manager for Christopher Ranch headquartered in Gilroy, CA, said incorporating vegetables and making them the center of the plate is a popular and growing theme today.

And adding flavorful ingredients, such as garlic, is helping people to become acquainted, or reacquainted, with produce.

“Christopher Ranch is more than just garlic,” explained Ross. “We also grow shallots and elephant garlic, and we handle pearl onions, cipolline onions, boiler onions and ginger. Our line also includes a variety of dried Mexican chilies and a full line of value-added items including pesto, sundried tomatoes, oregano, basil and Jalapeno peppers.”

All of these products add zest and great flavor to virtually every dish they are used in.

For over 50 years the Christopher family has been growing superior California garlic. The company takes great pride in providing the highest quality, most flavorful and healthy garlic available today.

Christopher Ranch is a true steward of the land in its goal of ensuring the continuation of crops from year to year. It is fully committed to sustainable farming in every aspect of its operation.

Food safety is also of paramount importance to the company.

It works continuously to improve and maintain high standards of quality and sanitation in its growing, processing and packing facilities.

In addition to its wide range of fresh, peeled, packaged and value-added jarred garlic products, Christopher Ranch offers organic garlic, also in an extensive range of formats.

The company supplies its customers from its numerous strategically located facilities in the United States.

“We work with retailers, wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers across the nation,” added Ross.

Over-the-top, most expensive specialty produce items

Everyone would agree that specialty produce deserves the premium it often garners. Items in the category are in great demand among foodservice operators and home foodies alike due to their special flavors and unique qualities.

But a few fruits and vegetables are priced so high that the mere mention of the prices they demand is enough to make anyone outside of the billion-dollar net-worth coterie gasp for air.

Believe it or not — there is a pineapple that sells for $16,000 and they’re not grown in the tropics. They grow at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, in Cornwall, England, a destination that draws thousands of visitors annually.MatsutakeMatsutake mushrooms sell for around $1,000 a pound, when they are available.

The pineapples are grown in a pit that is heated using a chemical reaction between 30 tons of manure, urine and piles of straw. It’s this nurturing from which the value is derived. In fact, the pineapples are not sold, but rather enjoyed by the staff at the gardens that have been growing them the same way since the 19th century. At one time in history, the gardens rented the pineapples to wealthy Victorian families as a dinner table decoration.

In Belgium and Holland, you can pay over $1,000 for a kilo of hop shoots. These are the green tips of the hop plant that are removed from the flowers used in creating beer. According to The, this most expensive vegetable in the world looks like a runty herb.

According to Melissa Cole, who distributed hundreds of shoots to London restaurants for the London Hop Shoot festival in May, they are expensive because they’re absolutely back-breaking to harvest.

“They don’t grow in a uniform row, so each one you pick requires you to hunch over and really hunt around,” said Cole. “Plus they’re tiny so you need to pick hundreds to fill a carrier bag.”

Raw, hop shoots taste a bit like nettles. Cooked, however, the leaves take on a kale-like quality, which could explain the price and demand.

Noirmoutier, an island just off the coast of western France, is the only place in the world that the most expensive potato in the world, the “La Bonnotte,” is produced. Only around 100 tons are cultivated annually. The cost of one pound can on occasion — remember that supply-and-demand rule also applies here — sell for more than $300 dollars.

Wikipedia’s author tells us the cost is attributed to the potato being nearly extinct. The fields require fertilization by seaweed in a climate shaped by the nearby sea, which give this tuber its delicate flavor. It also must be harvested by hand, and picked, not torn.

“La Bonnotte” potatoes are typically served in mid-May at high-end restaurants in France and the Netherlands.

The price leader in the Fungi category is the Italian White Alba truffle. This wild mushroom is so difficult to find that determining a market price per pound is impossible. The record price paid for a single white truffle was set in Russian a few years ago. The buyer paid $95,000 for the world’s largest specimen found in recorded history; four-pounds.

Following it is the Matsutake mushroom at around $1,000 a pound, when it’s available. While its historical prevalence meant it was nearly synonymous with autumn in Japan, the introduction of an insect that kills the trees under which the mushroom grows has caused a dramatic decrease in the number of Matsutake mushrooms now harvested. A method for farming the Matsutake is not yet developed, which means the lack of trees from which to harvest these mushrooms naturally is a serious problem for the species.

Two melons also make the world’s most expensive foods’ list; the Yubari King, a cantaloupe-like melon, and the Densuke variety black watermelon.

A pair of the Yubari sold for $15,730 in Japan a couple of years ago. According to, this orange-fleshed melon is prized for its juicy sweetness and its beautiful proportions. The Yubari is considered a status symbol in Japan, and is often presented as a lavish gift to a host or employer — no doubt by an employee hoping for a raise.

The Densuke is rare in that it is grown only on Hokkaido Island in Japan. A harvest typically yields only a few fruits.

Aside from its rarity, attributing to its value — one weighing 17 pounds once sold for $6,100 — is that its hardness and crispness, combined with what is referred to as the perfect level of sweetness, make the watermelon incomparable.

It’s interesting to note that offers both Yubari and Densuke seeds for a few dollars a pack.

Southeastern Grocers, celebrity chef partner on fresh, seasonal meals

Southeastern Grocers, the parent company of BI-LO, Harveys and Winn-Dixie stores, announced a fresh partnership with Food Network Celebrity Chef Curtis Stone to launch “Cooking with Curtis for under $10.” The program is aimed at helping people eat well for less by offering customers fresh, seasonal and affordable meal solutions that can easily be made from scratch at home.curtCelebrity Chef Curtis Stone

“Mother Nature does a pretty good job providing what we should eat at different times of the year, so I listen to her,” Chef Curtis said in a press release. “Food just tastes better when it’s in season and Southeastern Grocers shares my hunger to give people the best local and seasonal ingredients — and treat them simply. I’m excited to develop low-cost but simply delicious meals for their customers throughout the Southeast.”

A combination of Southeastern Grocers’ research and industry research revealed that many shoppers want to eat well, but there are barriers such as affordability, meal preparation time, knowledge of ingredients and how to select the ingredients. Research has also shown that nearly all Southeastern Grocers customers, regardless of budget, want to feed their families healthy, nutritious meals for less money, and approximately 25 percent of Southeastern Grocers customers rely on food assistance and are looking for affordable options for fresh, healthy foods.

In order to solve those challenges for its customers, Southeastern Grocers is offering unique recipes created by Chef Curtis. Recipe cards are available in all stores, in the weekly ad circular and online. A different fresh, seasonal ingredient will be featured each month with four easy-to-follow recipes. The ingredients for each delicious recipe will cost less than $10.

Chef Curtis is a nationally known TV personality who has been featured in shows such as Food Network’s "Beach Eats USA" and "Kitchen Inferno," TLC’s "Take Home Chef" and Bravo’s "Top Chef Masters," along with appearances on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." Chef Curtis recently opened the popular Maude restaurant in Beverly Hills, CA.

“Southeastern Grocers and Chef Curtis share a common passion to help families eat well for less, with fresh, easy meals they can make from scratch at an affordable price,” Sharry Cramond, executive vice president of marketing and communications for Southeastern Grocers, said in a press release. “Chef Curtis’ philosophy and $10 meal ideas resonate with our customers who want to prepare easy, healthy meals that add variety to their family tables. We’ve partnered with Chef Curtis because fresh and affordable foods are important to our customers — and providing the best for our customers is our priority.”

Tomatoes identified as source of Salmonella outbreak in restaurant chain

The Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture have identified tomatoes as the source of the Salmonella Newport outbreak that has sickened dozens of people who ate at Chipotle restaurants in Minnesota since late August. Investigators are working with state and federal partners to trace the tomatoes back to the farm of origin.

Since the outbreak was reported last week, additional illnesses have been confirmed by MDH. A total of 64 cases and 22 locations now have been linked to the outbreak. The nine people who have been hospitalized are all recovering. Meal dates for the cases range from Aug. 16 to Aug. 28 and people became ill between Aug. 19 and Sept. 3. The cases range in age from 10 to 69 years and are from 13 metro counties and several greater Minnesota counties.

“We expected to see additional cases because it can take up to 10 days for symptoms of Salmonella to appear, another few days to a week before people go to their doctors and the cases get reported to us,” MDH Epidemiologist Dana Eikmeier said in a statement. “However, there is no longer a risk of Salmonella from this particular product at Chipotle.”

The company has switched suppliers for its tomatoes and implicated product was removed from stores.

Mango harvest moves to Brazil

The last of the Mexican mango producing areas, in the Los Mochis area of northern Sinaloa, ended up with a relatively short crop in mid-September, shifting the mango focus to Brazil and South America.

Brazil got under way in late August and will have the U.S. market pretty much to itself until sometime in the latter part of October when Ecuador gets under way.

“It is a very strong market right now and it could stay that way until the latter part of November,” said Larry Nienkerk, manager of Splendid Products LLC in Burlingame, CA.Caucasian Hand Bowl1As the Mexican mango deal comes to an end in mid-September, the focus is now on Brazil and South American mangos.

Splendid typically has a large-volume mango deal from Los Mochis that would go well into September. But this year, he said it was a short deal, leaving the door wide open for Brazil.

Because of the length of the voyage and other factors relating to supply and demand, Brazilian mango producers are always looking for a strong market before shipping their fruit to the United States. They have other options including Europe. This year it appears as if the U.S. market will offer a very good opportunity for a 10- to 12-week period stretching into November.

According to volume figures available on the National Mango Board website, Mexico and Brazil typically ship similar volumes to the United States in September, with Brazil dominating shipments in October.  Ecuador typically takes over as the top exporter in November and December, before giving way to Peru for the January-February time frame.  Those historical patterns should continue this year, other than the fact that Mexico’s September shipment will be way down and should not rival Brazil for the top spot.

Even though overall shipments wane a bit in the fall period, the mango board continues to promote the item on various fronts. On its website, the industry’s promotion group touts its back-to-school efforts for this time period. “We have partnered up with Scholastic to create mango-focused lesson plans and materials this fall for teachers, students and their families.”

NMB is also continuing its mango summer and soccer theme into the fall.  As part of its sponsorship as the official fruit of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and an official snack of U.S. Youth Soccer (USYS), the Mango Board is hosting a series of ticket, soccer balls and jerseys giveaways with the two groups.  

Another highlight for the mango industry in the fall is the annual National Mango Board reception held during the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit Convention & Expo, which will be held in Atlanta this year.  The reception, which brings more than 300 mango industry participants together for information and networking, and will take place on  Saturday, Oct. 24, from 5:30–7:30 p.m. at the OMNI Atlanta Hotel at CNN Center.  Limited sponsorships are still available for any organization wishing to reach this highly targeted mango audience event.  Contact the National Mango Board for more information.