Natural Foods Merchandiser

Customers warm up with early vegetables

Produce Perspectives

You can feel it in your bones. It brings an excitement that?s universal, almost like making the last turn of a long trip and heading up the driveway of your childhood home. Yes, I?m talking about the arrival of spring. It offers a promise of warmer days, new growth and, of course, new fresh produce around which to plan delightful meals.

As your customers? thoughts turn to springtime favorites like strawberries, champagne mangoes and blood oranges, don?t forget to highlight the amazing vegetables that brighten even the gloomiest of lingering winter days. Start by making a can?t-miss display right at the front entry, one that shouts SPRING HAS ARRIVED. Even the smallest of stores can generate excitement in this way. It will increase your sales, not only in produce, but throughout the store.

It may choke Arty ?
Who can pass up a bountiful display of bright green spring artichokes? Yes, they?re a brighter green than second-season ones, because unlike fall-harvested chokes, they generally haven?t been exposed to frost. Try offering a nice row of large chokes next to a ribbon of lemons; then display the very small new artichokes that are found this time of year on the other side.

Put up a sign informing your customers that baby artichokes can be saut?ed and eaten whole, since the choke hasn?t fully developed yet. The adjacent lemons will remind them that fresh lemon juice is a nice complement to the artichokes? delicate flavor. You may even want to put a second choke display over by the dairy aisle, near the butter, to create that flavor association as well.

Couldn?t be fava from the trut
h Another springtime favorite is fresh fava beans, aka broad beans. Many people only think of them in their dry state, but these folks are missing out on a real treat. Once taken from the pod, fresh fava beans are tender and tasty and cook quickly—in only three or four minutes when blanched first.

Build a cool display that includes flavors that go well with favas, such as olive oil or springtime herbs like thyme and rosemary. I also recommend trying them with fresh spring garlic. Mmmm!

Can?t beet ?em
Though they grow year-round, in spring you can find the most exceptionally tender and flavorful young beets. Display them in a way that accents the beautiful beet greens, which are as delicious as they are pretty. Offer a quick tip for your customers: Once home, cut off the greens immediately or they will continue to draw moisture and nutrients from the roots.

While it?s not always easy to cross-merchandise an item you have to keep wet, you may want to try an iced display that allows you to include some other springtime favorites that go well with beets, like fresh mint or horseradish; and placing a case stack of balsamic vinegar nearby could well induce an impulse buy.

Give peas a chance
People who give peas a bad rap have most likely never tasted fresh spring peas. Green peas, also known as English peas, need to be shucked from their pods and shouldn?t be stored near their look-alike cousins, the smaller sugar snap peas. That?s because the snaps have an edible pod while the green do not.

You may want to put a stack of canning jars near your English pea display with a sign reminding customers to remove the peas from the pods as soon as they get home. Like corn, peas contain lots of sugar, which will start to convert to starch and the sweetness will be lost to the pod. Putting shucked peas in a jar will help them retain their sweetness longer.

Snow peas are another edible-pod pea that is best this time of year and can be displayed with canned water chestnuts and even some burdock root.

All three types of peas are wonderfully sweet and tender, and are so good raw that they often don?t make it to the pan despite the cook?s best intentions.

And that?s fennel!
This is one spring vegetable that you can use in several areas of the store to catch a customer?s eye and taste. Light and frilly, every part of the fennel plant is edible. Its flavor and texture lend it to use in an antipasto dish in the deli or in a display alongside canned tuna as a wonderful substitute for celery.

You might grill fennel at the front entry of the store with some freshly dug new potatoes. The flavors go well together and offer an opportunity to teach your customers that these fresh potatoes are best grilled, boiled or steamed. The more mature, later-season potatoes, which are higher in starch, are better for baking, mashing or frying.

I could go on and on but I think you get the idea. It?s time to celebrate freshness again, and your store is just the place to do it.

Mark Mulcahy runs an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355 or by e-mail at [email protected]

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 4/p. 36

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