Meeting the Demand for Year-Round Fresh Produce

Originally printed in the January 2024 issue of Produce Business.

Undoubtedly, there is a global demand for fresh fruits and vegetables to be available all year. Customers are used to having their favorite items offered from January to December, and, as a wholesaler, it is our job to guarantee shelves are stocked with the freshest, highest quality produce.

To cater to this demand, we are in constant contact with our growers and shippers around the world to make sure we provide the best produce from peak harvest regions.

What is in season domestically may vary with what is in season for imported items, and vice versa. Seasonality will directly impact the flavor and taste of any given item, which is why our customers look to us to guide them on the freshest in-season produce.

Seasonality will directly impact the flavor and taste of any given item.

With winter in full swing, below are selected flavor-filled fruits and vegetables we anticipate this season.

CITRUS: The main items we see at A&J Produce Corp., like other wholesalers, include California citrus — a staple year-round.

Although clementines are usually seen as a summer fruit, they are in peak harvest in California during mid/late October through January. While California harvests clementines in the winter, these are imported from Chile and Peru during the summer (Morocco ships imported clementines during winter months as well). Clementines are an active item with a purchasing window all year.

As the harvest season for clementines ends, Murcotts and tangos begin in mid-January and go through June.

Murcotts have a high juice and sugar content, making them sweet and extremely tasty. Tangos are typically seedless and have an excellent eating quality, packed with flavor.

The winter months also bring California navel oranges, which start harvesting in November. These are sold in bulk 40-pound cartons, with a variety of sizes offered.

California citrus is always popular during the winter, but specialty items should not be overlooked. Minneola tangelos start harvesting in California in January and run through April. Like navels, these are sold in 40-pound bulk cartons.

One of my favorite specialty items is a California blood orange. This starts harvesting in December and runs through June. These are sold in 20-pound half boxes, and sizes are usually 36 and 44.

Specialty items are growing (no pun intended) in importance, as there is now a customer desire for variety, in addition to a traditional line of fruits and vegetables.

CHERRIES: Cherries are also a desired winter item. In the summer, these are grown in California and Washington State. Transitioning into the winter, these come imported from Chile. Opposite seasons to the U.S. make it possible for this item to be available year-round.

Cherry sizes range from small to extra-large and double jumbo. Specialty and gourmet stores typically purchase cherries due to the high pricing.

While these are just a few in-season fruits (others include grapes, apples and pears), there are also plenty of fresh winter vegetables.

Late fall, there is a transition from Northern California growing areas to warmer growing regions in Southern California and Arizona. It is from these areas where winter varieties of lettuce and greens are grown. The movement for lettuce and greens is constant. Customers rarely know when we switch from growing regions season to season because of the overlap.

Mexico is a prime growing region for winter vegetables, playing a key role in the U.S. vegetable supply as we transition seasons.

BROCCOLI: Broccoli crowns are one of the many items harvested from Mexico in the winter through April. We sell these in 22-pound cases, specializing in an Asian cut variety (cut close to the crown, and less than 1 inch in length), an ideal cut for our customer base. Broccoli crowns have a unique taste, as they have a grassy, earthy flavor that is mildly bitter. The perfect broccoli crowns are green in color, have tight compact heads, a small bead size and fresh cut ends.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS: When you think of winter vegetables, you think of Brussels sprouts and hard squash. While these items are consumed all year, they are desired in the fall and winter months, making their way onto many restaurants’ menus (notably during the holiday season).

Mexico’s Baja region is known for growing Brussels sprouts. These can be found in containers, on the stalk, or loose cases. Green in color, fresh textured outer leaves and a firm bulb make the ideal Brussels sprouts.

SQUASH: Squash has become a more versatile item, with over 100 varieties (the most preferred in winter being acorn, butternut and spaghetti).

CORN: Making our way to the East Coast, South Florida is where we see winter sweet corn harvested. Florida sweet corn is in season from October to June. South Florida generally plants from October to March, central Florida from January to April and northern Florida from February to April.

Although these are just some of the many seasonal winter fruits and vegetables, there is constant pressure from consumers for produce to be offered year-round. This is welcomed, as our growers and shippers in the U.S. and around the world provide consistent, high-quality products for us from season to season. As wholesalers, in-season produce knowledge allows us to be adaptable and flexible, and to best serve our customers.

Stephanie Tramutola is the first female in the family to be working at A&J Produce Corp., Bronx, NY. The company was started in 1977 by her grandfather, John Tramutola, and his partners. Today, A&J Produce is one of the largest wholesalers of fresh fruit and vegetables in the Hunts Point Terminal Market, servicing New York and the northeast region.