Seasonal fruits, emerging specialty vegetables, convenience or pre-cooked ingredients and chile peppers are the four hottest produce trends in 2017, according to Robert Schueller, director of public relations at Melissa’s/World Variety Produce, a specialty produce purveyor based in Los Angeles. Schueller should know. He’s a twenty-plus year industry veteran and Melissa’s is the leading distributor of more than 1,200 specialty and organic produce products in the United States, selling nationwide and to the top 20 U.S. retailers. In fact, Schueller’s trends report for 2017 is based off sales of the company’s produce in the marketplace for the 365 days ending October 18, 2017 compared to the year prior. The produce items that had the largest percentage of increased distribution at retail and foodservice is what created the four trends categories.
1) Seasonal Fruits:
* Green Dragon Apples. Schueller calls sales of this sweet non-tart cross between a Golden Delicious and Indo variety from Japan one of the biggest trends in specialty fruit. This yellow skin apple doesn’t store well and is only sold fresh during its short-season from October to December.
* Muscato Grapes. This proprietary variety available July to October from the United States and February and March from Peru, is notable for its high brix or sugar content of 22 compared to 16 for the average grape.
* Winter/Christmas Crunch Grapes. October to December harvested California-grown fruit extends the season from the customary May to September. These are packaged for seasonal merchandising.
* Passion Fruit. Nearly all distribution in the United States is the purple-skin variety, sourced nearly year-round from Florida and California as well as New Zealand. A short supply gap occurs in December and January.
* Jackfruit. New-found interest stems from use of the fruit’s fiber as a vegetarian protein substitute. Eye-catching to sell whole at retail due to its size, more convenient pre-cut jackfruit as a product is currently challenged by short-shelf life issues.
* Rambutan. Closely related to the lychee, this fruit is now available almost year-round multisourced from Central America and Hawaii.
2) Emerging Specialty Vegetables:
* Organic Ginger. Now its annual availability, rather than for only six months, is driving sales.
* Turmeric. Interest in East Indian cuisine, as a substitute for ginger in juicing and its health benefits has sparked recent sales of this spice. Turmeric was the top trending functional food according to the report, ‘Think with Google: Food Trends 2016.’
* Pee Wee Potatoes. Once composted for not meeting grade size, the marble-size of these potatoes is now in demand for its short cooking time.
* Tatuma Squash. Similar in appearance to zucchini, this squash’s staple use in Latin cooking drives its placement in-store.
* Indian Eggplant. A tomato-sized version of a traditional globe eggplant, attributes are an edible skin and short cooking time.
* Tomatillo Milpero. Baby vegetables are big, and this bite-sized tomatillo is riding this trend.
* Petite Baby Bok Choy. This product leads sales in the Asian ethnic category, and demand has become cross-cultural. The small size means no chopping required.
* White Asparagus. Labor intensive to grow since it must be protected from sunlight-producing chlorophyll that customarily colors this vegetable green, white asparagus is more expensive to produce yet is finding widespread favor from fine dining chefs.
3) Convenience / Pre-Cooked Ingredients:
Technology in France not yet introduced to the United States enabled Melissa’s to introduce its steamed line of vegetables 13 years ago with beets first, followed by lentils. The idea is to take items with relatively long prep times, pre-cook and package ready to eat with a preservative-free shelf life of two months. New this year, the company has added Gold Baby Beets, Organic Steamed Lentils and Parisienne Potatoes.
4) Chile Peppers:
* Shishito Peppers. This kid-friendly pepper is all about flavor rather than heat, says Schueller. Popular in Japanese restaurants where its roasted and seasoned with sesame oil and served as an appetizer.
* Hatch Chiles. The mountainous 4,000-feet plus elevation and near 50-degree difference between day and nighttime temperatures in Hatch, NM, produces this thick, meaty, mild-tasting chile. Popularity beyond the Southwest and a short August to September season stems from the pepper’s ability to be roasted, frozen and used all year long.
* Thai Chiles. Small and hot, with a heat-rating between a jalapeno and habanero, this chile first loved in Asian cuisine is now cross-cultural thanks to finding favor in Latin dishes.