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US: Brussels sprouts continue to see jump in demand
It continues to be an excellent year for Brussels sprouts growers in the United States. Growing conditions in California remain good, and although the Santa Ana winds this week have been felt on the Central Coast, growers say the effects have been mild and the crops have avoided any damage.
"The majority of our Brussels sprouts grow in the Central Coast region here in California," said Steve Bontadelli, of Pfyffer Associates based in Santa Cruz. "There are some crops that are located in Santa Maria as well as in Mexico. The Central Coast season is expected to finish in late January, beginning of February before moving to Mexico and San Diego country. Growing conditions have overall been good. It has been drier than normal, requiring additional irrigation, but quality is great and numbers have been solid. The Santa Ana winds that have affected southern California this week have not blown as fiercely in our region and therefore have not affected crops."
Rising demand for Brussels sprouts
Demand for Brussels sprouts in the United States continues to rise. The increase in demand has been attributed to the popularity of cooking shows which are demonstrating how to cook the vegetable, as well as its promotion as a 'superfood'. Prices have also been higher than previous years, however it has since dropped following exceptional highs during the summer months.
"Demand has been ramping up again in the lead up to Christmas which is demonstrated by heavy bookings from next week," Bontadelli said. "Prices are currently in the high $20s, low $30s which is higher than last year when it was $25. It's been a crazy ride on the Brussels sprouts market all season, starting with prices of $55-$60 in June. It has held up in the $40s since then right up until Thanksgiving."
"Brussels sprouts demand has been rising rapidly in recent years," he added. "More people are learning how to cook them with the help of cooking shows. Additionally, you'll be pressed to find a restaurant now that does not have them on the menu in some form. Therefore, people are discovering how tasty they can be when cooked in different ways. There has also been the attraction of Brussels sprouts as a 'superfood'. As a result, growers continue to grow more and more every year. For example, our acreage has gone up four-fold in the last few years."
Stalks proving extremely popular
Brussels sprouts stalks are proving to be a very popular item for buyers. Part of their appeal is that the sprouts maintain their freshness for longer on the stalk. Another reason people are buying them is for their impressive appearance.
"We started selling the stalks 12 years ago," Bontadelli said. "It all began when one buyer in the Midwest approached us, wanting to purchase the stalks to sell to customers. Originally, he had displayed a stalk for decoration and a customer asked if he could buy it and it went from there."
Bontadelli noted that sales for the stalks have been very high. They are, however, available for a shorter duration in the year, due to the process by which they are harvested. "There is not as much availability for them," he said. "They are usually available from September through January and again in the Spring. The reason has to do with the way they are picked. In Mexico, the majority of Brussels sprouts are handpicked. Over several months, the sprouts are picked from the bottom up as they ripen. With the use of machines in the California growing regions, however, we are able to manage that differently. The top of the plant is pinched months prior to harvesting, which ensures the sprouts ripen evenly on the stalk. We have to sacrifice a bit of production that way, but as a result, we are able to present the whole stalk for consumption."
"The advantage of the stalks is that the Brussels sprouts stay fresher, as the sprout continues to draw nutrients from the stalk," he added. "And they continue to rise in popularity. This year we have sold three times as many stalks as previous years, and we are not even up to Christmas yet."
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