Is Indian summer finally here? If not, it sure feels like it. The pleasant weather turns our thoughts to what many consider to be the best time for baseball, one final camping trip, a few last dips in the lake and of course, late afternoon picnics and outdoor eating. And if you're feeling this way, so are your customers. Which is why September is the perfect picnic month and produce is the perfect picnic partner.
It wouldn't be a picnic without potato salad, right? We are moving from fresh potato season to storage-potato time, so your customers should take advantage of the last of the fresh-dug potatoes to make their favorite salad recipe. Make a display of organic potatoes piled high and surrounded by all of the ingredients most folks add to traditional potato salad: jars of pickles, mayonnaise, mustard and olives. Then, add an ice table with celery and eggs to finish it off. But don't stop there. Potato salad can be as elaborate as the work you want to put into it. Your display can reflect that as well. Why not look up some recipes for hot German potato salad or a green-bean potato salad? (I found recipes for both of these at http://southernfood.about.com.) Build your display with the ingredients that work with these specialty recipes. Believe me, the suggestions are powerful when your customers are shopping for dinner or picnic ideas.
Don't forget that the most important thing your customers have to do is choose the right potato. That's where you come in. While organic russets are great for baking on cool autumn evenings or for fries with your veggie burger, they aren't the best potato for making into salad for your picnic. The best salad comes from potatoes with high moisture content, known as waxy potatoes. Organic Red, Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold potatoes all fit into this category. Any of these will be a good first step to a great salad.
While many of us think fondly of potato salad because it tastes so good, it is also good for you. After all, potatoes are high in vitamin C and have more potassium than a banana. The celery most of us add to this summer salad is 94 percent water, and it also has a good amount of potassium along with vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and fiber.
As we all know, picnics aren't made from salad alone. Tomatoes, corn and melons are all at their best right now. Who could resist locally grown tomato sandwiches? Especially when you display them at the front door of the store with some hearty, fresh-baked bread and an ice table with tasty cheeses. I can taste it right now!
Put up a sign that tells your customers how great fresh, raw corn is in their pasta salad. Sliced organic melons are a healthy choice that rounds out any warm-weather meal, and they are easy to transport to any picnic location.
Another reason this is such a good time for picnics and produce is you get the best of both worlds: the last sweet tastes of summer and the first tastes of autumn. Apples are just starting to appear now and if you are going to eat a Red Delicious, now is the time. I can hear the moans already: "Are you kidding me, Mark? Red Delicious are lousy apples!" Much of the year I would agree with you, but in September and the beginning of October, when they are freshly picked, they are actually pretty good.
This is also the time when Macintosh and other softer, fleshier apples will be all they can be. And there isn't an easier snack to eat on a hike or horseback ride than an apple, is there?
Whatever you choose for your picnic or cookout, you know that the produce you include in the menu is going to be good for you and good-tasting. Customers can't go wrong, no matter which items they choose in the produce department. And what better way to start shifting your thoughts to cooler weather than a tasty and healthy Indian summer meal with family and friends?
What are you waiting for? Build those picnic displays and head out on your own picnic.
Mark Mulcahy has 25 years of experience in the organic produce industry. He is the produce director for New Leaf Community Markets in Santa Cruz, Calif. Contact him at [email protected]
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 9/p. 29