Renowned since ancient times as a healthy vegetable, and with an increasing domestic and international market demand, the artichoke still needs to gain its recognition on the shelf, and is still relatively unknown in some Northern European countries, despite the specific nature of its taste and its versatility in combining both rural cuisine and gourmet dishes.
FreshPlaza spoke by phone to the sales director of L'Ortofrutticola F., Alessandro La Russa, to take stock of the next Sicilian Artichoke sales campaign.
"We may have to be more effective in communicating this vegetable by using new paradigms.” Alessandro points out that "Sicily is fully entitled to call itself one of the most important districts for the cultivation of artichokes, together with other three Italian regions: Apulia, Sardinia, which is one of the most largely invested areas, and Sicily, with particular focus on the province of Caltanissetta, which boasts a remarkable production of approximately 500 hectares for open field crops, 80% of which are used for the cultivation of artichokes".
L'Ortofrutticola F is located near Niscemi, in Sicily, known as the "capital of the artichoke". It grows about 16 million flower heads, in multiple varieties, including Violetto, Romanesco C3, Tema, Apollo, available in different sizes to meet the needs of the distribution channels. The selection consists of typical fresh products - mostly tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, courgettes, grapes, small-sized watermelons, and yellow melons - that ensure a commercial supply for the whole year.
"A good harvest and high quality flower heads can be expected in this artichoke production. With favorable weather, we will start with the first cuts in about a month, around November 15 -20, about two weeks in advance, thanks to the early transplantation in July".
The products are available in multiple packages: 30x50 and 30x40 cm cassettes containing 25 cropped flower heads, or 40x60 cm large cases, or CPR cassettes to supply bigger retailers.
The farm is worried about not having enough labor available for the picking of the artichokes. This event is discouraging several local producers, specifically those who produce tomatoes, and who are thinking of not planting them at all, to overcome this problem. The issue might be linked to the so-called "citizens' income": a newly approved welfare law for those who are considered on the poverty line, but which seems to have an unfavorable impact in the agriculture sector.
"I want to point out - concludes Salvatore La Porta, director general of the farm - that our project aims to strengthen the supply chain and improve the territory with a selection of seasonal products. Our core business focuses on tomatoes: cherry, piccadilly, and on the vine, which represent our top leading products for both their quality and continuous presence year-round in both Italian and international markets and supermarkets, as well as in the domestic and overseas catering industry."
Ortofrutticola F is certified by the GlobalGAP quality management system. With a growing turnover of 8 million euro and a 40 per cent export share, the brand positions itself in highly competitive globalized markets, thanks to a targeted internationalization strategy. The products are commercialized in France, Germany, Austria, Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Romania and Switzerland.