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Romanesco too pretty to sell in bulk

Cauliflower is one of the most popular vegetables, but its Italian cousin, the Romanesco, remains a niche product in the Netherlands. Romanesco is a breed apart, boasting a fractal geometry - a form mathematicians find fascinating. Within the fresh produce sector, Romanesco is often referred to as the turreted cauliflower.

The name, Romanesco, is derived from ‘broccolo romanesco’ and means ‘broccoli from Rome’. It can, therefore, be compared to broccoli, a vegetable that has managed to become very popular. Broccoli has been grown in the Netherlands since 1986. The way Romanesco looks, may well not work in its favour. “People find it a bit too different”, says Frank Meuleman of Meuleman Groente, Fruit and Primeurs from Beverwijk, in the Netherlands. "They think it’s really something for the festive season. But there’s no interest for the other 360 days of the year.”

Frank does, however, have a few good sales arguments. “Romanesco contains less sulphur-containing nutrients than cauliflower, which makes it taste better. Romanesco is a good alternative for children who do not like the taste of cauliflower”, says Frank. "It is also an attractive product to cook whole and to present on a plate, drizzled with a bit of sauce. Then you easily have something beautiful to eat. However hard he tries, Frank cannot convince people to buy this product. “People only buy it for special occasions like the festive season. Sometimes painting clubs will buy a Romanesco in order to paint it.”

People cannot complain about the price either, according to Frank. “Romanesco is the same price as, or sometimes even less expensive than, cauliflower. The Romanesco also tastes blander than cauliflower.” Although Romanesco remains an exclusive product, Frank remains a fan. He uses this product to distinguish his business. “It is a nice exclusive product; an eye-catcher that draws in customers. It’s also cheaper than advertising. I also have purple and orange cauliflowers.” Frank processes Romanesco along with soup vegetables. “Then you get these pretty little turrets. Again, something special that appeals to customers.”

Romanesco is, however, something that professional chefs use. It has more to do with its look since it quite a neutral flavour. “Romanesco is doing well. This time of year we sell 6 - 7 boxes a week”, says Rob Spronk of Han de Kroon Horecavers. “Now it is from foreign countries and its price is higher than in the summer. It moves a bit faster in the summer when we sell an average of 10 - 12 boxes per week. It is a nice-looking product and is often used as a side dish or in salads."

Romanesco is not available in supermarkets. They would rather offer a product throughout the year, and the right varieties for this are not yet available. “It is more difficult to grow than cauliflower, which is hard enough to grow. It grows between June and November. In the summer months, it is prone to sprouting. This means its leaves grow through the head. The cauliflowers also turn purple quickly. You must handle it carefully if you want the little turrets to remain intact”, says Joris Ursem of Bejo, the market leader in the sale of Romanesco seeds. "Even if the crops become as old as the road to Rome, where it originally comes from and for which it was named, it never grows into a large crop. A total of 30 - 35 hectares will be cultivated between June and November. It is mainly destined for restaurants and specialists. Yet, people find it to be a beautiful vegetable. At our open days, everyone stops to admire the Romanesco.”

A little further up in the chain, Nanne van Baar of The Greenery reaches the same conclusion as the above mentioned experts: “Romanesco is a beautiful product, but it remains very small in the retail sector. It is a niche product which has to receive sufficient attention before it sells.” ZON fruit & vegetables also confirm that Romanesco is a low-selling product. It is supplied in limited quantities for auction and has a stable (limited) supply from May until November/December. It is sold mainly to wholesalers and in the specialist channel, says Els van Herpen.

The interest in Romanesco is more significant outside of the Netherlands, but it is 'peanuts' when compared to cauliflower. Southern Europe has the highest sales, and it is also sent to Scandinavia.

More information:

Joris Ursem

Marie Legendre

The Greenery
Nanne van Baar

Meuleman Groente, Fruit
Frank Meuleman

Royal Zon
Els van Herpen

Han de KroonHorecavers
Rob Spronk

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