November 2011


In the car and off to the next one.  This is a neighborhood store also but probably twice as large as the first store.  Again it is very well stocked, almost overflowing with merchandise and looks prosperous.   This store also has a restaurant tucked in back and a certain amount of cooking supplies.    A very friendly lady immediately came to help me.  When I asked her for Jujube  (and also Goji) she knew right what I wanted and brought them.  In our conversation she also indicated that the Jujube is a very good seller, in fact the size they offered was 16 oz.  It was larger and also a dollar more at $4.99.

16 oz. package of dried Jujube "Red Dates"

I asked about fresh Jujube and she told me they do not carry them because they only grow in China and have no way to get them here to sell.  Several times I tried to explain to her that we grow them and would she buy from a local supplier?  Finally she conceded she would although I am sure she thought she was just humoring me.  I was unable to find out exactly how much she sells of the packaged dried ones or her estimates of sales of the fresh ones, but with another visit and some samples I am sure we could get a more accurate assessment.

When queried about why she sells so much of the packaged dried jujube  she explained that her customers ate them almost daily.  They do not eat them whole like one would often eat dates but instead chop them or dice them and add to almost all rice dishes or stir fry.  She tried briefly to explain some of the Asian concepts of  food as medicine and how the jujube was considered an important part of this in Eastern culture. 

 There are a few interesting observations that make me believe that this is a market just waiting for a supplier.  Both stores while small, had a very loyal and good repeat clientele and had customers in them.  Both stores had the same brand and importer of product which tells me there is limited availability.  But most of all, the product I tried was not very good.  It was dry and had very little flavor.  I would guess also by its small size that the lowest quality is used for export and the best is consumed in China.  Virtually all dried Jujubes I have eaten here, even the types that were only made for fresh eating were better than the product I purchased.  I believe that with some samples and a taste test that these store owners would gladly carry a New Mexico  grown Jujube or red dates and that they would sell for a premium price. 

This is just a small sample of the places one could start to market this product.  There are at least 6 other stores in the metro area catering to the Asian population and a few that are much larger.  The amount of restaurants serving Asian cuisine is staggering and the market for the fresh product delivered in season could be very good.   You would want to develop an appealing package  and maybe offer 2 or 3 sizes for the dried fruit.  Another search of “the Google” showed many ethnic associations or “clubs” catering to these specific  groups.  This would provide an excellent venue for direct marketing or to gain customers for a U-Pick-It operation.  In summary, I think the future is bright for anyone willing to take the ball and run with it promoting Jujubes locally.

 

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 I have long felt there would be a good demand for Jujubes  if you could market them correctly.  Since our business model is to promote and develop fruit crops for small growers that will be profitable here, growing is only part of the  equation.  They can’t be profitable if they can grow them but can’t sell them.  Therefore a portion of our efforts are dedicated to also teaching growers how to build demand and market their product.  I have watched and taken note as many vendors at the farmer’s markets spend considerable time and energy promoting new or uncommon vegetables (think rutabaga).  They give samples, use discount pricing, promote in their newsletters and/or websites and give recipes and tips on how to use and prepare them.  Most of the farmers I have spoken to expect to spend a year to two years “educating the public” on their new food variety.  In unison they voice how hard it is to gain acceptance for something new.  Some people won’t like it, some will go back to the old varieties, some will not think it worth the price etc.  While necessary, that all seems like a lot of work and trouble.

 One of the reasons given for why Jujubes never gained acceptance the early 1900’s in this country was that they were promoted too soon.  They were passed out at events and gatherings by excited government officials as soon as the first crops came in.  Unfortunately these varieties were ones made for drying, not for fresh eating and the public turned their collective noses up at them due to the poor flavor.   Now we have many varieties that are good for fresh eating as well as different ones that are better for processing and ones made just for drying.  So it’s like starting over with an unknown fruit.  Add to that a product that has confusing name.  Jujube  Jujube.  To me it conjures up visions of the old candy by the same name that was really not very good   (I may be showing my age here).     It was the forerunner of the improved “Jujyfruits”,

JUJYFRUITS

which seems like the forerunner to the modern “Gummy Bears”. and of course my personal favorite, the “Gummy Worm”.

 Enough history, how do we build a market?   And how do we do it the easy way?  It came to me that we may not have to educate the public when there is an already educated segment of our society out there.  If we are lucky maybe all we need do is fill a demand!  So straight to “the Google” I went.  A quick search for “Asian food markets Albuquerque” came up with 8 locations.  Certainly they would use distributors to import the foods they sell and might be interested in a fresher, locally grown product.  So I hopped in my car and headed out. 

 The first one was a small neighborhood store which was packed with all types of food items, the vast majority of which I had no clue what they were.  I only knew the others if they had English writing on the package.  This store even had a small restaurant hidden in the back with 4 tables.  When looking through the shelves I quickly found what I was looking for, a 12 z.  package of dried jujubes or “Red Dates” for $3.99.  My Korean is a little rusty, so in my best

12 oz. package of Dried Jujube or "Red Dates"

broken English  I asked her if she sold a lot of these and she indicated she did.  As they had a small fresh food section I asked her if they ever sold them fresh or would they like to try and carry the product.  After much back and forth and many hand gestures on my part, I believe the answer is that they never have them fresh because of no supply and that there would be a very big demand for them. No doubt if I had walked in with samples we would have communicated better.

 In the car and off to the next one.  This is a neighborhood store also but probably twice as large as the first store.  Again it is very well stocked, almost overflowing with merchandise and looks prosperous.    Continued……..

(Diospyros virginiana) In Greek the genus name for persimmons roughly translates to “Fruit of the Gods”.  This is in reference to the delicious 1 – 2 inch orange fruits that when ripe have been described as tasting like ”apricots drizzled with honey and a dash of spice added”.  However if you bite into one before it is ripe, Look Out!  Your mouth will pucker from the tannic acid and the astringent quality associated. 

American persimmon with fruit

These are another one of our native fruits which are being “rediscovered” and are starting to now be appreciated. What is it with our culture that we think something is better the rarer it is or if it comes from a further distance?  Sometimes the best things are right under our noses!

The American Persimmon can be made into jams, jellies and pie fillings along with all sorts of desserts.  The fruit can be processed and the pulp frozen for use later.  Cookies, cakes, custards and ice cream can then be made with this pulp.  Probably the best known desert is persimmon pudding. It is a baked pudding that has the consistency of pumpkin pie and is almost always topped with whipped cream.  Each year in September the annual persimmon festival is held in Mitchell, Indiana and features a contest for the best pudding.  Of course the fruit can also just be eaten fresh!

On the nutrition/health side, persimmons have high dietary fiber, phenolic compounds, potassium magnesium, calcium, iron and manganese. They are rich in vitamin C and beta carotene.  Regular consumption is believed to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis heart attacks and also improve lipid metabolism.

The trees themselves are a thing of beauty with a tropical appearance. This is due to the long and

American Persimmon Tree

drooping glossy green leaves and an alligator bark.  A small group of them can make a nice shady area on your property and a perfect place to hang a hammock for those hot summer days.  The trees are male or female so to get fruit you will need one of each.  That’s the good news, the bad news is you don’t know the sex until they are mature and flower. The best way is to plant at least three trees which increases your odds of having both.  These are seedling trees and are inexpensive. The fruit matures and ripens in late fall and can hang on the tree until almost Christmas.

Persimmon with frost

This tree isn’t picky to soil types and seems to have no known pests or diseases here.  It becomes drought tolerant once established probably due to the long taproot that it develops. We have grown these for several years in New Mexico and as far as I can tell we are the only nursery to ever carry them.  This would also make a great diversification as a crop for Farmer’s Markets and certainly extends the fruiting season.