Are consumers becoming more courageous in their cooking? If so, this could be one of the reasons consumption of specialty vegetables is up in 2020.
“When the pandemic began and the panic-buying ensued, we noticed the most in-demand products were the “storage” items such as potatoes, large-sized beets, cauliflower, broccoli, celery root and even kohlrabi,” says Matt Hiltner of Babé Farms, Inc. in Santa Maria, CA.
An assortment of colorful, specialty vegetables from Babe Farms.
However, since then, Babe has noticed a gradual shift from consumers towards specialty items, particularly as regional lockdowns continue and restaurants are closed or limited in their menu items. “Consumers are looking to recreate restaurant-quality meals from home,” says Hiltner.
So, while the demand for those storage items that were so popular early on in the pandemic has eased somewhat, specialty vegetable consumption continues to trend upward says Hiltner. “We’ve received hundreds of emails from consumers requesting farm boxes with assorted specialty vegetables,” he says, adding that Babe attributes this as well to the company’s social media campaign where the colorful, diverse vegetables are shown off. (An appearance from Babe Farms on the show “California Bountiful” also helped.)
Colorful roots popular
He adds that specialty items that have translated well into retail and have been eye-catching to consumers include colorful root vegetables such as baby beets, rainbow carrots, specialty radishes, kohlrabi, Tokyo turnips and Romanesco cauliflower. “These items strike the ideal balance of marketability and strong shelf-life,” adds Hiltner.
Hiltner also notes that Babe has seen an uptick in business with not only its retail existing customers but new ones coming on board as well.
Much like whether the interest consumers have in home-cooking is a trend here to stay, whether this trend in consuming more specialty vegetables lasts is still to be determined. “It may seem obvious but there is no way of knowing if you like a product until you try it for yourself,” says Hiltner. “If the experience we have had in the past with our foodservice customers is any indication, people love our specialty vegetables for their color, quality and consistency. This leads to repeat purchases and there is no reason to think that this same philosophy won’t translate to retail given all of these factors.”