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Jose Roggiero of Freshway Produce
"We want to take the tropical roots category away from ethnic to mainstream"
When you step into a supermarket, you may, or may not, have noticed some unusual looking vegetables. These vegetables look kind of look like potatoes, but they're not. In fact, there are several different types, and each of them have their own character and flavor. Tropical roots form the basis of business at Freshway Produce. The company sources them from all over Central and South America and is committed to bringing greater attention to them.
"Tropical roots make up the majority of our business," said Jose Roggiero, of Freshway Produce. "These roots include such varieties as Malanga, Yuca and Yam. However, we market around 15-20 different products on a weekly basis. Our produce comes from places such as Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Peru and Jamaica, among others. This year, we have introduced 7 new products from the Dominican Republic that we haven't presented before. These include Yellow Malanga, Sour Oranges, and Breadfruit. We have also established a more stable supply of Green Plantain from Guatemala. In this way, we have expanded our product base to become more of a complete tropical house."
Focus on moving into mainstream
One of the goals of Freshway Produce is to encourage more people to try tropical vegetables and incorporate them into their diet in the same way as mainstream vegetables. Roggiero believes there is a huge potential for the market to expand and offer consumers a greater selection of vegetables.
"Our objective is to take the category away from ethnic and into mainstream," he said. "We concentrate on providing value and presenting vegetables in a new and appealing way. For example, highlighting the similarities as well as differences between traditional potatoes and tropical potatoes and enticing consumers to think outside the box and try different produce. The tropical tubers appear intimidating for many people. They are often hairy, oddly shaped and people are not sure how to cook them. Freshway Produce is always looking to promote ways in which people's reluctance to purchase them can be overcome. Ultimately, we really want people to have the opportunity to enjoy them as they are, as healthy vegetables, as well as to increase the options for ingredients in their meals."
Promoting nutritional value
One of the ways that the tropical vegetables are made more appealing is by promoting their nutritional value. In a market that is very responsive to nutrient rich foods, by introducing the tropical produce into recipes and featuring them as a healthy food, Freshway Produce believes the usage of them can lead to more widespread consumption.
"By informing people of their nutritional value, we see an increase in consumption of these vegetables," continued Roggiero. "Malanga, for example, is an excellent source of nutrients and vitamins. It is uniquely one of the most hypoallergenic foods in the world, and its flour is easily digestible even by persons with extensive allergies. Malanga is also high in fiber and potassium. Together with their bold flavor, they are becoming more sophisticated. Foods rich in complex carbs, as is the case with the tropical roots, are trendy and is a fast growing market. We see them in the same category as avocado was in the 80s. Until the discovery of avocado oil and its benefits, avocados were seen as exotic, whereas now, they are pretty much mainstream."
"Additionally, Freshway Produce incorporates their social media to show people how to cook these vegetables," he continued. "We continue to add recipes as well as display all the nutritional values of the products on there, in order for consumers to increase their knowledge and familiarity with the vegetables. We are also continually on the lookout to encourage restaurants to incorporate them into new dishes, which is another way for customers to be introduced to the flavors and nutritional benefits."
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