Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Babé Farms

Talking specialty produce with Matt Hiltner of Babé Farms

The Packer’s Tom Karst recently asked Matt Hiltner, marketing coordinator for Santa Maria, Calif.-based Babé Farms, Inc. about current trends in specialty produce marketing.

What niche or specialty produce items have seen the most growth in the last year or so?

One item that comes to mind is our baby fennel. While most are familiar with traditional full-size fennel, Babé Farms is one of the only growers in the US who harvests fennel at a baby size. Chefs love the crisp, sweet, licorice-scented vegetable as it transfers its unique flavor to the ingredients it is paired with, such as meats, poultry, and fish – and being able to have it in a petite size that is perfect for plating is a win-win. With the gradual revival of the foodservice industry over the course of this year, we have seen baby fennel sales grow and grow as chefs are back in kitchens creating their signature dishes.

What marketing themes are you using to build demand? Is social media a part of your marketing efforts?

Social media plays an integral role in our marketing efforts and there are a couple themes we’ve keyed in on lately to help drive demand for our specialties:

  • Food art: with chefs, food stylists, and influencers constantly trying to make food that is as “Instagram-able” as possible, we started to look at vegetables less as “ingredients” and more as “models.” Stunning specialty produce items such as Purple Ninja radishes, colorful carrots, and the aforementioned Blonde Frisée™ are ideal for creating edible art, worthy of hanging in a gallery.
  • Classic dishes elevated with specialties: a trend we’ve noticed recently is the practice of elevating traditional foods with the addition of specialties. Salads, pickles, sandwiches, etc. can all be taken up a notch with the right selection of ingredients. We recently released a video in which we featured Chef Michael Cherney of peasants FEAST restaurant in Solvang, CA. While Michael has a Michelin background, he explains that his direction for the restaurant was simple comfort food made with the highest quality ingredients. He then showcases 3 dishes that utilize Babé Farms vegetables. You can find the video on our Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube!

Do you see demand for specialty produce for grocery e-commerce channels?

Yes, we have seen business in this category pick up quite a bit in recent months. Bulk items such as our Baby Bok Choy, Kohlrabi, and Watermelon Radishes, have had the strongest e-commerce demand due to their excellent shelf life. We are excited to see this category continue to grow as we are always striving to make our specialties more widely available to the mainstream consumer.

How would you describe retail and foodservice demand now for specialty produce, compared with before the pandemic?

As I alluded to in the first question, foodservice demand has come back to near pre-pandemic levels. Barring another lockdown, it looks like the foodservice industry is on the right course – something we are thankful for, as the majority of our business comes from the foodservice side.

In terms of retail, a category we were not as heavily involved in, we saw a good amount of growth over the course of the pandemic. During the shelter-in-place days, consumers became more adventurous in the kitchen and thus more willing to try specialty items in order to create those chef-quality meals they could no longer enjoy at their favorite restaurant. We pushed to establish more partnerships with retailers and were successful in this regard. With the sheer amount of inquiries we receive on social media, it is nice to be able to have a network of retailers we can direct consumers to, where they can find our products.

Source: The Packer