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Red-colored white turnips part of competitive push

MIRABEL, QC — On first pass, it sounds like a marketing scheme from Madison Avenue. But down-to-earth Denis Bissonnette does not grin when he describes his new commodity: White turnips now come in red.

The president of Groupe Ethier Inc., located here, said that the white turnip, which is also known as a rabiole, is from “the same family as a rutabaga, but smaller. We have a new variety that is full-red.” Mr. Bissonnette added, “I have high hopes on the red” turnip. He has cooked and tasted it and predicts “it won’t take long” to catch on in the marketplace.

According to the web site of the Quebec retailer Metro Richelieu Inc., the rabiole “belongs to the large family of cabbage, mustard and radish. It has been grown in the Middle East for over 4,000 years.”

While white turnips typically are white with a purplish top, Mr. Bissonnette said that Groupe Ethier is also offering a rabiole that is completely white. The diversity can give retailers a new look in their root sections. For turnip-buying consumers, “color is important. Looks are 50 percent of selling turnips.”

The end of the turnip storage season for Groupe Ethier generally comes in February or March, he said.

To test and introduce its new products to consumers, Groupe Ethier has for the first time rented space on Montreal’s central market. There, the firm is making direct sales to consumers. “With all the new things we have invested in and are promoting, we are making people know we have the varieties. We did this to make new products known in the local market. You’ve got to start somewhere.” Furthermore, he will be presenting information to the retail chains, “and hopefully they will pick them up. In my opinion, if you don’t go forward, you are going backward — and in the near future, you will see a business drop. You have to keep going forward with something new or your competitors will come up with something new. If you don’t try it, you don’t know if it will work.”

When The Produce News called on Mr. Bissonnette July 18, he said that the central market sales venture had started just four days prior. A truck was leaving the Groupe Ethier warehouse at midnight for the market, which is roughly an hour away. The market closes late in the morning, and those operating the market operation then order for the next day.

Generally, he said, “We are looking forward to making the company better. We have the people in place to be successful.”

The staff of Groupe Ethier, he indicated, includes five children work-age-eligible between company owners Mr. Bissonnette, Ginette Ethier and Jocelin Ethier. The fourth company owner is Pasqual Ethier. Mr. Bissonnette is the only non-family owner. He joined the firm in 1996 working as a broker, then became an owner in 2005.

He said that by mid-August, Groupe Ethier would be shipping its full line. The firm has an affiliation with growers in the Mirabel area and many other parts of Quebec. It ships potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, cabbage and parsnips — as well as turnips. The firm’s acreage-shipped will be up in 2011 after a successful 2010 shipping season.

The firm places 70-75 percent of its total production into storage. The first frost in this area of Quebec generally comes toward late October, although it can come earlier. Heavy frosts come in November.

Mr. Bissonnette said that the roots “have always been a volume item, especially when they’re on ad.” There is a vast volume of root products grown in Quebec and, especially in the fall, the markets are very active with promotion fulfillment.

“This company was built to assure volume.” He said that efforts are constantly being made to improve the firm and the quality of its products.