(Jan. 3) Shippers hope celebration of this year’s Chinese New Year will bring more than the good luck prediction found inside a fortune cookie.

Grower-shippers and retailers promoting Asian fruit and vegetables during the Year of the Ram, which starts Feb. 1 this year, say the holiday will help increase demand for specialty items such as bok choy, snow peas and napa cabbage.

“We’ve been in the planning process for this holiday for quite some time now,” said Robert Schueller, assistant marketing director for Melissa’s/World Variety Produce Inc., Los Angeles. “It’s one of our larger promotions.”

Melissa’s/World Variety Produce offers 75 varieties of Asian produce items.

Shippers say most traditional Chinese New Year fruits and vegetables, such as eggplant, ginger and Asian pears, remain in abundant supply. One exception is the Chinese long bean, sourced from central California, which will be in shorter supply after rain and cold weather turned their tips black.

“It’s a real sensitive crop,” Schueller said. “Prices may be double.”

The holiday helps boost produce sales during a normally slower time of the year, shippers say.
“During this time of year, when things kind of die out after New Year’s, it’s good to have some kind of promotions,” said Loren Hiltner, sales director for Babé Farms Inc., Santa Maria, Calif., which supplies green kohlrabi, a bulb-shaped cabbage, to retail distributors.

“That’s one item that seems to sell well this time of year,” he said. “It’s helpful to keep business rocking and rolling the best we can.”

Tristan Millar, director of marketing and business development for Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif., said Frieda’s has been promoting Chinese New Year for more than a quarter of a century.

“Specialties are so much a part of the holiday tradition,” she said.

To help retailers increase specialty sales during the holiday, Frieda’s offers sign kits, store decorations and provides product education and customized programs.

Shippers say close proximity of the Jan. 26 Super Bowl may have mixed effect on Chinese New Year sales.

“We’re faced with opposing holidays and event challenges since Chinese New Year changes each year,” Millar said. “Having holidays so close to it doesn’t seem to affect it.”

Grocers merchandise and promote Chinese New Year in other areas of the produce department, she said.

“When having two events at the same time, it’s like having your birthday at Christmas, when you won’t get as many presents,” said Craig Anderson, president of Golden Gourmet Mushrooms Inc., San Diego. “It hurts in that the Super Bowl for foodservice is a major pull for products. It would be better to have them separated by a few weeks.”

Specialty mushroom sales increase during the holiday.

“It’s a huge factor,” Anderson said.

Melissa’s/World Variety provides stores with a Chinese New Year kit that includes recipe pads, signs and point of purchase materials. Schueller said he recommends retailers promote the Chinese New Year two weeks before and one week after the event.

“The Chinese New Year is a great way to get the retailer involved in extending the Asian category or introducing it into their stores for the first time,” Schueller said. “The key is to get the whole store involved in the promotion by offering a one-stop shop to the customers.”

Bok choy sold for $8 for 30-pound wax coated cartons, said Schueller. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported lower prices Dec. 31 for 70-pound out of central California, going for $7.20. Prices out of the Imperial and Coachella valleys were $8.10-8.75.

Baby bok choy was selling for $9 for 10-pound cartons, Schueller said. Snow peas sold for $14 for 10-pound cartons, ginger root fetched $20 for 30-pound cartons, and napa cabbage marketed for $7.50 for 15-pound cartons, he said.

Like the Cinco de Mayo Mexican holiday, shippers note Chinese New Year is becoming more Americanized.

Shippers say the promotions help increase consumer awareness and demand for Asian foods and through cross merchandising, help move more mainstream produce items.

Demographics plays into the interest in the Chinese New Year. At $45,249, Asian and Pacific Island consumers have higher median household incomes than whites, with $38,972, Hispanics, $26,628, and blacks, $25,050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Golden Gourmet’s Anderson said Asians consume more specialty mushrooms.

“Similar to the Japanese retailers, they (the Chinese) are a very large percentage of our specialty sales,” he said. “By having a 5-6 times higher per capita mushroom consumption rate, they’re more familiar with the specialties.”