I just can’t resist offering up my thoughts on a few produce trends for 2015. The great thing is that fresh produce is front and center for all things healthy, and retailers and restaurant operators (and chefs) are even more in love with fresh produce than they ever have been.

Plant-based Protein

Yes, that’s right. Who knew that many produce items can be a source of protein? This is super important to vegans and vegetarians, but the spillover is that all consumers are finding out about fresh produce as a source of protein. In addition to potatoes and broccoli, consider Colored Cauliflower, Baby Brussels Sprouts (green AND purple!), Edamame, and Green Artichokes. Next time you want to make a light meal at home, why not grill a Cauliflower Steak? (Don’t laugh. There really is such a thing. At a fancy dinner I attended earlier this year, since the honoree was vegan, we all had Cauliflower Steaks, and they were delicious!)

Frieda's Specialty Produce - What's on Karen's Plate? - Food52: Dan Barber's Cauliflower Steaks with Cauliflower Purée
Food52: Dan Barber’s Cauliflower Steaks with Cauliflower Purée. Click for recipe.

Digestive Health

We are all concerned with the health of our “gut,” which is why probiotics and yogurt have become so popular. But did you know that fermented foods, which are trending heavily right now, are good for your digestion too? Try Kim Chee (spicy Korean pickled vegetables) or one of my personal favorite vegetables, Sunchokes® (also known as Jerusalem Artichokes).

Meatless Monday

You may not be aware that the Meatless Monday campaign has been around since 2003. The concept is that if going vegetarian or vegan full-time is scary, why not try just one day a week? An amazing fact is that the Meatless Monday movement helps with the drought in California. One of our top crops in California is hay, which is used to feed cattle and other animals. Producing hay uses a lot of water. So, by cutting out meat one day a week, who knows how many gallons of water we will save!

And here are other top trends that you’ll notice in the months to come:

Gluten-free

Well, of course! Because I have a daughter who is allergic to gluten, I have become super aware of the plethora of gluten-free foods. We only purchase foods that boldly state “Gluten-free” on the label. If it doesn’t say it on the label, we don’t take a chance. But be prepared for some backlash on gluten-free, just as there has been on “low fat” and “high protein” foods. Healthy and balanced nutrition is important!

More Root Vegetables

Whether it is parsnips, celery root, carrots, beets, rutabagas, or turnips, roasting vegetables whole as a main course has become very chic!

Ugly Produce

I cannot wait for this trend to catch on! A blemish here or a wilted leaf there does not affect the eating quality of the produce. And just think of how much more produce will NOT go to waste if we purchase and prepare “ugly-looking, misshapen produce.” Here’s a great campaign by French grocery chain Intermarche.

Intermarche – ‘Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables’ from Goodvertising on Vimeo.

Small Supermarkets

Smaller stores are easier to shop. Even Walmart is opening “Neighborhood Markets,” smaller versions of its supermarket. Chefs in some smaller markets are willing to pre-cook “gourmet” food to go, or you can ask them for recommendations on the spot. It’s more personal!

Local, Local, Local

I just heard a radio commercial for a restaurant chain advertising the name of the grower of its greens! We’re used to seeing local growers’ products at farmers markets, but supermarkets and restaurants alike have realized that we want to know who grows our food and if it’s nearby, even better!

Looks like we will continue to have more healthy options available too. Hooray! More fruits and veggies make me happy!

Happy New Year!

Karen

Do you or your firm have interns? Have you thought about how you could potentially change that person’s life by the way you structure the internship?

This is our fifth year hosting an intern from EARTH University in Costa Rica. We were first introduced to EARTH when it began in 1990 in the rainforests of eastern Costa Rica. We were fascinated with its focus on true sustainability.

Each year, EARTH brings approximately 100 students from the tropics around the world—starting with Central and South America, and now including students from Africa, Asia and North America—and teaches them to be agriculturalists. The university gives them the skills and education to go back into their communities when they graduate four years later and create enterprises that improve the economics of their home countries.

It is a noble mission and University President José Zaglul told me when we had lunch a few months ago that the university’s fundamental goal is to create ethical leaders.

Frieda's Specialty Produce - What's on Karen's Plate? - José Zaglul with my mom Frieda Caplan
José Zaglul with my mom Frieda Caplan, Frieda’s founder.

Each September through December, third-year EARTH students are required to have an internship in a carefully selected company somewhere outside their home country. The students go out and do real work, applying what they have learned in school and learning what it’s like to be in what I call “the real world.”

Frieda's Specialty Produce - What's on Karen's Plate? - EARTH University interns
President Jose Zaglul, with two other EARTH interns, and Isaiah (R)

This year, our intern was Isaiah Lekesike. Isaiah is originally from Kenya, the fifth of eight children in his family. Since the age of 10, he has supported himself by qualifying for scholarships at the top junior high and high schools in Kenya. And through his hard work, his excellent grades and his inner drive to succeed, he ended up receiving a full scholarship to EARTH, over 13,000 miles from his home.

As I mentioned, Isaiah is our fifth intern. We have had two interns from Costa Rica, two from Haiti, and this year two students from Kenya applied for one position. It was a hard choice, but after multiple Skype interviews, we chose Isaiah. He was very excited to come to Southern California.

The first night Isaiah arrived, we went to dinner together. It was difficult to understand him as he spoke with an, of course, Kenyan accent. But with his big smile and pleasant attitude, I knew he was perfect for our culture at Frieda’s.

Frieda's Specialty Produce - What's on Karen's Plate? - Isaiah and Karen
Isaiah and me…in my gym clothes.

After a few weeks of working under the supervision of our Category Business Analyst Leslie, Isaiah and I met for a feedback session. I asked him if he had a bucket list of things he wanted to do while in California. He looked at me, puzzled. “Why did I want to know?” I told him if he shared his goals, then I could help him achieve them.

It turns out he wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay and the Hollywood sign, and go to Disneyland and Las Vegas (of course), among other things. Fortunately for us, we had many volunteers within the company who made sure he got to do almost everything on his list.

Isaiah’s 15-week internship flew by so quickly. His final day in the office was spent finishing up his work, and then presenting a 30-minute recap of his experience at Frieda’s. Everyone in the office was invited and we ended up with over 20 people crammed into our conference room! After the presentation, we celebrated his success with a quick lunch, then he was off to Las Vegas for the weekend.

So when I drove Isaiah to the airport for his flight back to Costa Rica on Monday night, I asked him what surprised him during his Internship and what he learned. This is what he told me:

I know each year that the EARTH student whom we select to be an intern will have his or her life changed forever. What always surprises me is how they change MY life and the lives of other members of the Frieda’s family.

Frieda's Specialty Produce - What's on Karen's Plate ? - Isaiah's last day at Frieda's
Isaiah with many of our Sales, Buying and Marketing teams.

Happy Holidays!

Karen

P.S. If you haven’t received my blog for the last six weeks, I took a little break. Sometimes we need to do that.