In the past 12 months, only 12 percent of consumers bought artichokes, according to the latest Fresh Trends guide by Vance Publishing. In our instant-gratification society, many people have rejected this misunderstood flower bud because the pleasure of its heart only comes to those who are willing to slow down and patiently pull away each tender leaf until they reach the reward.
But for those willing to savor subtlety, little teases of the artichoke's wonderful flavor are released from each petal by sliding it along the tongue and teeth. But the true reward, the nutty-flavored heart, is something that food lovers all over the country should enjoy. And spring and fall are when artichokes are at their best! So what can you do to help your customers enjoy them this spring?
Start a Grill 'em, Fill 'em or Chill 'em campaign in your produce department. You can begin by having a kids' artichoke-eating contest. Parents won't mind and kids will think it's fun—after all, everyone likes eating with their fingers, don't they?
You could also set up a display by the register. When I was at New Leaf Community Markets in Santa Cruz, Calif., I noticed they had mobile, wooden, 2-foot by 2-foot ice trays near the registers promoting cheese, nuts and chilled chutneys. This would be perfect for the Chill 'em part of the campaign. You could arrange baby artichokes on a bed of ice next to some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fresh basil, dill, oregano and rosemary. Then post a recipe for marinated artichokes served over chilled pasta. Talk about an impulse item! Direct customers who might be tempted but don't want to cook to the prepared foods department, which can have this recipe already made up in the deli case.
Or how about setting up a few grills outside the store on a Friday or Saturday afternoon next to a large table brimming with lemons, garlic and these green, budding beauties? You could actually show folks how easy it is to make delicious grilled 'chokes. The key is to cook the artichokes in boiling water for about 15 minutes before coating them with a lemon, garlic and olive oil dressing and putting them on the grill. Mmmm … if this doesn't sell artichokes, I don't know what will.
But then again, there is always the Fill 'em part of the campaign. If you sell fresh seafood in your store, put another display near the lump crab meat and fill it with artichokes, lemons, fresh horseradish, dry mustard, fresh dill and parsley, small jars of mayonnaise, a few heads of radicchio or Bibb lettuce and plum tomatoes. Put up a recipe card for crab-filled artichokes and watch them fly. This could also be sold in the prepared foods department to generate added sales.
For even more fun, have a Do as the Romans Do day, where you make a big end cap that has everything you need for a spring vegetable stew. Back in the day, the Romans would celebrate the coming of spring by eating big bowls of fresh spring vegetable stew. Start your display with a big stew pot filled with artichokes and surround it with lots of other springtime favorites like leeks, lemons, fresh fava beans, spring garlic, baby turnips, bunch carrots and fresh peas, along with fresh herbs like organic parsley, thyme, basil and marjoram—all the makings of a great spring stew. Heck, you might even get the produce staff to wear togas for the day.
But your staff should also know a little about how artichokes are grown. Almost all U.S. artichokes are grown on the mild, foggy, central California coast. The most popular is the Green Globe, a perennial variety produced by rootstock. The plant overwinters in the ground, where it can harbor pests, such as the artichoke plume moth. Controlling this moth means conventional growers spray 12 to 14 times a year. New thornless annual varieties produced from seed can be grown in areas where the plume moth is less of a problem. Although other pests still need to be dealt with, organic growers find them easier to handle than the moth. Most organic artichokes on the market are annuals for this reason. So just as spring is an annual event, perhaps your artichokes should be, too!
Mark Mulcahy runs Organic Options, an organic education and produce consulting firm. Contact him at 707.939.8355 or at [email protected]
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 4/p. 27