Summer months bring out the best from Upper Midwest, so it’s imperative to capitalize.
During the summer, Michigan is hot. Not just because of the rising temperatures but in terms of produce. Fruits and vegetables from Michigan are renowned for their quality, taste and variety. From healthy snacks to creative side dishes, grilled vegetables and desserts, Michigan’s produce items are stars during the summer … and beyond.
“Michigan continues to be a great hub for a diverse product offering during the summer and fall months, with certain storage crops available year-round, such as root vegetables and apples,” says Tyler Hodges, fresh produce sales manager for Superior Sales, Inc., which is headquartered in a 52,000-square-foot modern warehouse in Hudsonville, MI.
Though consumers enjoy amazing produce from Michigan 12 months and 365 day a year, summer brings its own special pleasures.
MICHIGAN SUMMER FRUITS (AND VEG)
One of the key reasons Michigan grows such high-quality fruits and vegetables is its climate.
“During the hot summer months, Michigan can see a more mild climate from the unique surrounding Great Lakes that grow excellent quality and flavor profiles,” says Hodges.
That creates the perfect conditions to grow classic vegetables that people enjoy all summer long.
“We get started on our Michigan season in May, with asparagus, before transitioning into our summer veg items that include cucumbers, peppers, squash, celery, cabbage and corn, along with many more that create a great mix grown very well,” says Hodges.
Henry Deblouw V, president of Mike Pirrone Produce Co., based in Capac, MI, says popular fresh vegetables that come out of the state during the summer include rhubarb, organic greens, cabbage, zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, bell peppers, Poblano peppers and eggplant.
He says these items are especially popular for their delicious taste and health benefits.
“Michigan produce is fresher, meaning more nutrients, better flavor, seasonality and more varieties available to consumers,” says Deblouw.
IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME
Aaron Fletcher, sales and logistics associate for Todd Greiner Farms Packing, headquartered in Hart, MI, says the state’s popular summer produce items include asparagus, cherries—both sweet and tart—zucchini, squash, sweet corn, and peaches, and that Todd Greiner Farms also grows and packs winter squash, pumpkins and apples.
“Michigan has a large variety of other fruits and vegetables available throughout the growing seasons, but those are all of the items that we grow, pack and ship on our farm,” says Fletcher.
And those delicious fruits and vegetables are finding their way to homes during the summer months.
“Michigan produce season is a special time of year in the produce industry because our state produces so many incredible quality fruits and vegetables,” says Fletcher. “For the most part, our area only gets to enjoy ‘locally grown’ fresh produce for about half of the year, so it’s a real treat to consumers when our harvest seasons roll back around each year.”
Most of those grown in state are enjoyed in Michigan itself, though some of them make their way to other regions of the country.
“A lot of our produce stays right here in the Midwest, but we do ship a significant amount of Michigan-grown produce all over the country,” says Fletcher, adding that most of that distribution is in the Central and Eastern time zones, and occasionally out West.
Hodges says Superior Sales also distributes nationally.
“We’re set up to ship nationwide with a well-established network of growers and carriers that make this all happen,” he says.
PROMOTING MICHIGAN PRODUCE
With so many delicious fruits and vegetables offering a variety of flavors and uses, it’s only smart to spread the word about these goodies and how they can be used during the summer months.
“Retailers can promote Michigan produce with signs and special displays,” says Deblouw. “Michigan consumers are very proud of their state. Awareness alone of local produce in their grocery store will help drive sales.”
Specifically, he cited an item that he says is growing in popularity.
“Rhubarb is back!” says Deblouw. “And we are trying to keep up with the demand with our indoor and outdoor growing windows. We also see consumers purchasing items that were popular in the previous decades and being more adventurous in the kitchen, which we see reflected in the rising popularity of varietal squash like Delicata, and sweet dumpling.”
Another perfect promotion comes with barbecue season.
“I think summer months are a great time to promote items you can grill,” says Hodges.
One key Michigan grilled vegetable retailers should promote is asparagus, which pairs excellently with grilled steaks, chickens, burgers and more.
“Michigan is now the largest-producing domestic region of asparagus, with a season shipping through the month of June,” says Hodges. “It can pair well with holidays such as Father’s Day and utilizing that grill.”
ALL ABOUT APPLES
Perhaps the fruit most associated with Michigan is the classic apple, which offers lots of options and varieties. Antonia Mascari, director of marketing for sales and marketing firm Applewood Fresh Growers, headquartered in Sparta, MI, says the popularity of varieties depends on crops for each season, but in general the most in-demand apples are Gala, Fuji, and Kiku.
During the summer, apples may not be at the forefront of shoppers’ minds. So, creating eye-catching and suggestive displays can help sell apples.
“Create product cards to promote creative uses, from making the apple itself into a dip bowl and putting in Marzetti Caramel or peanut butter dip,” says Brian Coates, Applewood’s director of business development.
Recommending suggestions for Waldorf salads, apple pies, crisps and smoothies — which are perfect for the Fourth of July — also can help drive sales. All of it can be done, according to Mascari, through displays, product cards and recipes.
Coates also suggests secondary displays near traditional summer fruits, such as berries, melons, grapes, stone fruit and cherries. Another idea is to set up a smoothie end cap with fruits and veggies.
“Organize a farmers’ market event in-store or in the parking lot,” says Coates. “Invite local growers to display and sample. To promote local growers, we have meet-the-grower info cards, high-res photos and recipes to merchandise with the displays.”
There also are lots of cross-marketing ideas for apples, including as a salad topping paired with raisins, chopped nuts, croutons and salad dressings. Then there are baking supplies for a classic apple pie—pie crusts, apple crisp mixes. Other opportunities are smoothie mixes and fruit trays for graduation parties and other celebrations.
LOCAL AND ORGANIC
When it comes to distributing Michigan produce, Deblouw says Mike Pirrone Produce keeps things local, for the most part.
“We try to keep as much of our produce in our state and neighboring states,” he says. “With the diversity and list of items we grow, at times we will ship to the Southeast and Southwest.”
The other trend the company is focusing on is meeting the demand for organic produce.
“Organic has been a focus of ours for the past 15 years,” says Deblouw. “The 2019 season, we have around 90 acres of greens production, consisting of green kale, red Tuscan collards and rainbow chard. Also, we are expanding our organic hard squash plans to offer green acorn, butternut, spaghetti, kabocha, delicata and sugar pies. We are doing trials of green peppers and cabbage and are working on those programs for the 2020 season.”
Superior Sales is also considering entering the growing organic market.
“The organic category is something we’re looking into in addition to and to help complement our existing conventional items,” says Hodges.
With so many options for healthy and delicious fruits and vegetables, promoting produce from Michigan is sure to improve sales and satisfy customers.