Boom in US market demand for European lettuce varieties

In his field, located in Spreckels,CA., Mike Antle showed off one of his company’s fastest growing product lines: Artisan Lettuce. The tiny European varieties are being overwhelmingly adopted by consumers. In just a few years, the product has grown from an experiment to Tanimura & Antle packing 75,000 boxes a week. “Sales have increased several hundred percent since we introduced the line,” Antle said. “We are always looking for new offerings for our customers,” said Antle, the chief operating officer of T&A, as it is more commonly known to Salinas Valley residents.

Spring mix, a combination of 10 to 15 baby lettuce leaves, has been on the market for more than a decade. Consumers have a constantly evolving interest in new salad products, prompting T&A to devote a significant amount of resources into developing new product lines. “When McDonald’s starts carrying spring mix, it’s generally reached its market maturity,” Antle said. “Consumers grow tired of the same thing and are always looking for something different.”

Tanimura & Antle’s own research indicates that 86 percent of consumers surveyed said they would try Artisan Lettuce if their grocer carried it. “Food service and club stores are driving the sales, but retail is picking up,” Antle said.

The term “artisan lettuce” was coined because the various shades of green and red are enticing to chefs who want to create their own palettes of colour on plates, or as Antle said, “create their own masterpieces.”

T&A has produced new varieties through its partnerships with seed companies and other joint projects. T&A is working with Salinas-based Salad Savoy on a new variety Antle is calling “Kale Blossoms,” which through conventional breeding practices is part kale and part Brussels sprout. The variety was first introduced in Berlin last year.

In May, T&A Artisan Lettuce received exposure on the nationally syndicated nutrition news show “Appetite for Health.” Two separate segments, “Heart-Smart Salads” and “The Mediterranean Diet,” aired across the United States in more than 250 media markets, reaching an estimated 4 million broadcast viewers, Antle said.


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