Two years ago, no one walked into their grocery store and said, ‘I think I’m going to eat kale tonight.’”
Today, of course, kale is a supermarket star, noted former Kroger produce executive Reggie Griffin during a panel session of retailers at the Canadian Produce Marketing Association Show, in Montreal, earlier this year.
Kale’s rise wasn’t entirely unexpected, added Griffin, now a produce industry consultant. The leafy veggie caught on in restaurants first, then on TV, before shoppers decided to make kale part of their weekly grocery shop.
Kale is just one of the items seeing big growth on the so-called “green wall” of supermarkets. Another? Prepared, packaged salads, a category whose sales are anticipated to reach $778 million in Canada this year, up $200 million from six years ago, according to Euromonitor. Sales are expected to rise another $169 million by 2019.
With Canadians buying more vegetables [dollar volume sales were up 8% in the 52 weeks to June 27, according to Nielsen], Canadian Grocer wondered which veggies are trending. To find out, we polled retailers, growers and wholesalers. Here’s what we dug up.
POTATOES ARE BACK
These are not your grandfather’s mashed. Restaurants and home cooks are plating mountains of small potatoes (two inches in length or less) and mini-tri-colours in purple, red and yellow, says Doug Archer of Flanagan Foodservice, a Kitchener, Ont.-based restaurant distributor. Fingerlings are also becoming increasingly popular, he says.
ANYTHING WITH KALE
Kale, it seems, can do no wrong, even when combined with every grade schoolers’ most detested veggie: brussels sprouts. Kalettes, a cross between kale and brussels sprouts, first showed up two years ago at Berlin produce show Fruit Logistica. Now they’re gaining a following. Mimmo Franzone, director of produce and floral at Longo’s in Toronto, says anything kale (shoots, kale sprouts, prepacked and prewashed) are flying off shelves.
Under kale’s halo, other leafy greens, such as red Swiss chard and red dandelion, are also selling well, he says. Indeed, lettuces and greens saw dollar growth of 18% in the 52 weeks to June 27, Nielsen data shows. And broad leaf bagged vegetables were up by 7%.
Immigration from South Asia and China is driving eggplant’s rise in Canada. The vegetable’s texture and meatiness make it a good meat substitute. Eggplant also lends itself to being stuffed, sliced, broiled, puréed, fried or even barbecued. Angelo Alberga, of Canadian Fruit and Produce at the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto, says his eggplant sales are rising 15% to 20% a year.
AMARANTH IS IN
Seeds from the amaranth plant are sold as a “grain” in many health-food shops. But amaranth is also a leafy vegetable. Chris Sarantis of distributor Canadawide Fruits in Montreal, says he’s noticed demand growing. The veggie variety is renowned for its health properties, part of the trend to leafier, green, fast-cooking veggies, he says.
PEAS ARE A SNAP
Move over mini-carrots, stringless snap peas are catching on as a low-calorie snack. They can be eaten raw, stir-fried or dipped in hummus or other dips, says Ben Alviano, Canadian national manager with California’s Mann Packing.
DRY HERBS GO FRESH
Basil, rosemary, mint, thyme, sage and tarragon, often imported from California, Chile, Mexico or South Africa, are replacing dried herbs in restaurants and home kitchens, says Archer. As well, exotic mushrooms such as porcini, chanterelle, shiitake and portobello are enjoying popularity, only this time in dried varieties.
Lil Gems, or baby romaine lettuce hearts, are about six inches and make for a tasty break from traditional salad. Usually medium green in colour with glossy leaves, they’re from California and are gaining in popularity, says Franzone.