Natural Foods Merchandiser

Get customers psyched about winter produce

Produce Perspectives

Have you fallen into a winter rut and, even worse, taken your customers with you? When the colder weather strikes, it can be harder for folks to get excited about veggies the same way they do in the summer. And who can blame them? Warm days mean your section is likely brimming with corn, tomatoes, local green beans and all sorts of delicious fruits. How can parsnips and cabbage compete?

That's where you come in.

Why not start by making a wheel of parsnips? They have a mild celery-like aroma and a delightfully sweet, nutty flavor that can be enjoyed alone or in many different recipes. Give your customers ideas about how to prepare them, as well as information about how they grow. I love them roasted with a little olive oil for dinner, and then used for lunch with some steamed greens wrapped in a sprouted grain tortilla.

Let your customers know that fresh parsnips have a soft texture when they are cooked, but remind them not to overcook these root veggies or they will become mushy. Also tell your customers that parsnips taste best when they are allowed to stay in the ground until after the first frost, which causes the root's starch to convert to sugar. You could even hang a sign that explains how parsnips can range in color from tan to white, and how the white ones are the most tender and similar to carrots. Another thing you could note is that parsnips will keep for weeks if properly stored in a cool place. They should also be firm in texture and scrubbed, not peeled, before eating. Even better, parsnips are a gift that keeps on giving, as they are packed with nutrition and low in calories. An average 9-inch parsnip is high in fiber and is a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, niacin, potassium, riboflavin, thiamin and zinc, and vitamins B6, C and E. All of these nutrients are essential for maintaining a healthy immune system this time of year.

Next, how about making a giant display of green, red and Savoy cabbage with a bloom of fennel bulbs in the center of the display? I recently traveled to Newport, Ore., and had an amazing fennel-cabbage slaw that was a big hit with everyone at the table. You can get the grocery and bulk departments into the act by asking them to display bags of fennel or anise seeds, jars of mayonnaise, red-wine vinegar, and some salt and black pepper—all the ingredients necessary to make this tasty dish.

And don't stop there: Make a mound of yellow ginger on your dry rack along with some baking supplies or Thai food ingredients to generate interest in this remarkable root. After all, ginger is known for its power to be soothing, warming and calming—not bad attributes during these cold and hectic winter months. You can also let your customers know that using ginger can be as simple as putting a couple slices in a cup of warm water with a little lemon and honey, which helps digestion. (Ginger contains enzymes shown to relax the stomach and prevent gas.) It can be added to all sorts of baked goods, like cinnamon—ginger muffins, or it can be used in curried ginger veggies.

Finally, a consumer favorite—at least once they know what to do with it—is organic spaghetti squash. The bright yellow color will add a burst of excitement to your section, and including some leeks and garlic in the display, along with instructions on how to prepare this winter produce, can inspire shoppers to put a new twist on pasta dinners.

I hope these ideas have shown you that even though your shoppers are now bundled up when they walk into your store, it doesn't mean they have to skip right past the produce section. With a little creativity, you'll see your winter fruits and veggies flying off store shelves—and help your customers realize the true bounty of this season.

Mark Mulcahy has worked in the organic?produce industry for more than 25 years and is produce director for?New Leaf Community Markets in Santa Cruz, Calif. Contact him at [email protected].

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIX/number 1/p. 28

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