Sweeten your everyday!

Asparagus: From Specialty to Staple

Regular readers of The Snack Magazine have seen that the industry is undergoing a number of changes as we work with not just Mother Nature’s whim, but also consumers’ expectations. As demand for consistent supply increases, specialty items are becoming year-round.

Among these is asparagus, which has become more prevalent in recipe options and as a regular item on consumer shopping lists. Recognizing this, Ippolito International has actively boosted its asparagus program in both conventional and organic as it looks to meet every need and desire of its customers. To learn more about the move and where this rising category is headed, I sat down with Dan Canales, Senior Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Processing. With 32 years of experience across multiple categories under his belt, the last three of which have been spent serving Ippolito International’s strategies in growth, who better to ask?

Melissa De Leon: What trends or events piqued Ippolito International's interest in expanding its reach by way of asparagus?

Dan Canales: We quickly learned from our customer base that we needed to be a year-round player. Asparagus fits very well in terms of adding to that one-stop convenience with all of our western veg and value-added items. So, we acquired a new growing and packing deal in the Salinas Valley, California, at the beginning of 2018 that included both conventional and organic asparagus. In addition to growing in Salinas during the regular asparagus season, Ippolito grows in various regions of Mexico, depending on the time of year.

MD: What are some ways chefs or foodservice professionals are preparing asparagus with this boosted availability?

DC: We are seeing more requests for tips of the asparagus stalk. Jumbos continue to be the size of choice for a lot of the steakhouse concepts while, in terms of preparation, each chef has some small variation of how they like to prepare asparagus. From simply steaming or grilling to using freshly shaved asparagus on a salad, we are seeing a lot of expansion in how the category is being applied.

MD: What have you observed on the consumer-side for asparagus consumption?

DC: With year-round availability, we have noticed a greater awareness has been created with consumers. It’s not just an Easter vegetable anymore—asparagus, like many other vegetables that used to be a specialty or niche offering, has now become a consistent item consumers can purchase any time of the year. They are loving the fresh crisp flavor and nutritional benefits of asparagus and creatively add it to breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

MD: How is rising demand for crops like asparagus changing the fresh produce industry?

DC: As I mentioned earlier, with asparagus and other categories that were once exclusively specialty, it is becoming almost a requirement to be a year-round player. This, as well as offering various pack sizes, is especially important if you want to have a captive and consistent customer base.

MD: What other areas of the business are Ippolito International growing?

DC: We are continually adding to our SKU list, whether it be with Belgian leeks, chopped collard greens, or bagged asparagus. If our customer base has a need and it pairs well with our core competency and volumes, we are always trying to add value to our relationships. Keep an eye out!

Whether by the tip of the stalk or root-to-stem, it sounds like asparagus is a vegetable to be aware of as consumer and restaurant kitchens alike look for new spins on the category. I, for one, am certainly eager to see what winter delights come of having it available year-round as we approach holiday dishes and the creative culinary whims they inspire.

Specialty item? Sounds more like a staple to me!