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Marketers of Asian produce gear up for Chinese New Year

With the Chinese New Year occurring later this month, marketers of Asian produce items are gearing up for increased demand for a variety of products.

Patsy Ross, marketing director for Gilroy, CA-based Christopher Ranch, said that the company expects more volume of ginger from Hawaii this year than was available last year.

"We feel that Hawaiian ginger is the best," Ms. Ross said, adding that it always is the premier ginger and as a result tends to be higher in price. Hawaiian ginger harvest also is the longest, she said.

Christopher Ranch offers a 4.25-ounce bottle of ginger, a 4.25-ounce bottle of ginger-garlic stirfry mix and a nine-ounce bottle of ginger for retail.

The company does not have set promotions for the Chinese New Year, which this year falls on Jan. 26, but will have ample fresh and peeled garlic available, Ms. Ross said. Christopher Ranch is open to working with retailers on promotions and has point-of-purchase materials for the Chinese New Year, she said.

Los Angeles-based Melissa's/World Variety Produce Inc. views the Chinese New Year as a significant promotional opportunity for its very broad line of Asian produce.

Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Melissa's, said that the Chinese New Year is a cross-cultural celebration for the Asian community at large, with Japan being a notable exception. The company will promote items such as Chinese noodles, won ton wrappers, egg roll wrappers and organic tofu.

Melissa's supplies its retail customers with a Chinese New Year merchandising kit and offers advice on advertising, merchandising and pricing. The point-of-sale materials include tear-off pads as well as shelf danglers and shelf talkers.

Melissa's has been tapping into Chinese New Year promotions for a dozen years or so, Mr. Schueller said.

Mr. Schueller said that Melissa's has the largest variety of Asian produce in the United States, with more than 100 varieties. Melissa's carries items such as bok choy, baby bok choy, Chinese eggplant, napa, gai lan (Chinese kale), gai choy (mustard cabbage), ginger root, galanga root and Asian pears.

The company's top sellers in the category include ginger, daikon, baby bok choy, lemon grass, sno peas, sugar snap peas, napa and bok choy. Melissa's also has fruits in its Asian produce line such as Korean pears, kumquats, Satsuma mandarins and pomelos.

"Citrus is big for December through March," Mr. Schueller said. "Twelve years ago it Chinese New Year promotions weren't so focused on citrus. Pomelos didn't exist 12 years ago."

Jeff Schwartz, vice president of South Hackensack, NJ-based Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., said that sales of its ginger and shallots continue to be strong. The company carries a wide variety of chili peppers.

Auerbach sources its ginger from multiple locations, including Hawaii, Brazil and Costa Rica. The Brazilian ginger harvest finished around the end of November. Both supply and price were stable on Brazilian ginger, Mr. Schwartz said. Ginger has been a mainstay at Auerbach since the mid-1970s.

Auerbach also continues to enjoy success with its tofu in a sanitary pouch, Mr. Schwartz said. The full-service company carries items such as fortune cookies and fried noodles.

Garlic remains a primary item for Auerbach, Mr. Schwartz said. "Garlic from California has seen a resurgence," Mr. Schwartz said. "The influence from Chinese garlic is less."

Auerbach sources bok choy and napa from California, and both items "are big for us," Mr. Schwartz said. The company's daikon comes from California as well. The company has carried shallots since the early 1970s and mostly sources them from the United States and Canada.

Jim Provost, president of West Grove, PA-based I Love Produce, said that ginger is one of the company's bigger sellers, though there have been fluctuations in supply.

"The largest supply and sales [of ginger] are from China," Mr. Provost said. The ginger harvest in Hawaii had just started when he spoke with The Produce News Dec. 10.

At that time, the f.o.b. price to California for Hawaiian ginger was $50 per case, whereas Chinese ginger was going for the low- to mid-$20s per case, he said.

I Love Produce sources ginger and garlic from virtually all growing areas, including the United States and China. The company offers a full complement of organic and conventional garlic and ginger: fresh bulk, packaged, peeled, jarred, roasted and pureed.

Mary Ostlund, marketing director for Homestead, FL-based Brooks Tropicals, said that the company has been growing its own starfruit in western Florida for 20 years and is credited with commercializing the fruit in the United States.

The starfruit variety common in Asia has a sweet and sour taste, Ms. Ostlund said, whereas the variety grown by Brooks Tropicals is sweet and juicy, she said.

In southern Asia, starfruit typically is grown under a canopy of trees, which protects it from the harsh sun. Brooks Tropicals replicates that environment by growing its starfruit in screened enclosures. Brooks Tropicals' harvest starts in January and runs through March before coming back in June.

Brooks Tropicals distributes starfruit across the United States and Canada in bulk and in "star packs," with two starfruit per clamshell.

Brooks Tropicals imports ginger mostly from China and Brazil for distribution to foodservice in the United States and Canada.

Ms. Ostlund said that the company has a small but stable ginger program. David Nelley, apple and pear category director for The Oppenheimer Group, based in Vancouver, BC, said that the company imports Asian pears for distribution throughout the United States and Canada. The pears primarily are for distribution to retail.

In the winter months, Oppenheimer imports Asian pears from Japan and South Korea; in the summer, the company imports Asian pears from New Zealand and Chile. Oppenheimer's Asian pears destined for the Canadian market are grown in China.

Oppenheimer imports Tottori 20th Century pears from Japan that go into Los Angeles and New York.

"They wrap the [Tottori pears] on the tree with two paper bags," Mr. Nelley said. "The skin is unblemished."

In Washington state, Oppenheimer grows a Pacific Rose variety apple that is popular for the Chinese New Year, Mr. Nelley said. The variety is a top export to Asia, he said.

Pacific Rose apples -- a cross between a Gala and a Splendor apple -- originated in New Zealand and have been around for several years.

"We're finding traction with the Asian consumer base on Pacific Rose apples," Mr. Nelley said. The fruit is popular with Asian retailers in Vancouver, BC, he said.