Broccoli reinvents itself for modern British consumers

Broccoli - THE_BIG_WEAN_ELLAS_KITCHEN

Babyfood supplier Ella's Kitchen is promoting broccoli as a snack food for babies and toddlers

Broccoli Michelle Toft - Coregeo_2
Michelle Toft

Broccoli is one of those lines that is often taken for granted, but all that is changing as the revival is here and the brassica vegetable also known as calabrese is increasingly being used in new ways

There is increasing innovation in the way in which broccoli generally is being used. Devi Biswal at Kent and East Sussex restaurants The Ambrette has turned to Indian cooking as an inspiration when using broccoli. “We use a Southern Indian cooking technique, which originates in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, to serve fresh and light Tenderstem® broccoli on our menu: we stir fry it in coconut oil with spices such as mustard seeds, ginger and curry leaves.”

Tenderstem® is a broccoli hybrid as it is a cross between broccoli and kale. The entire product including stems can be eaten. Master licensor for the product in the UK, Coregeo, has been heavily promoting it teaming up with Great British Chefs to develop new recipes and launching the Tenderstem Near You map on its website so that consumers can quickly identify which local restaurants serve the product.

Michelle Toft, chief marketing officer at Coregeo believes that supporting the trade is essential in order to develop sales of Tenderstem® “If an ingredient in a restaurant inspires you, you’re more likely to pick it up next time you see it in a supermarket and try cooking with it at home,” she says. “We love seeing the product being showcased at its best. As Tenderstem looks very presentable on a plate and top chefs are more likely to choose it over broccoli as part of their culinary creations.

“Over the past five years Tenderstem® has seen double-digit growth: total sales in 2015 were up 21% on 2014 and sales increased by 50% in wholesale over the same period. 2016 is set to be another record year. The most recent Kantar data shows Tenderstem® is the fourth largest brand within the fresh produce category.”

Broccoli on the go

Broccoli - Broccoli Salad

Ready to eat broccoli served in a jam jar is an unusual combination, but it is proving to be a winning option at Gym Bites, a company offering healthy salads on the go. The company’s Green Supreme Broccoli Salad is made fresh daily. Consumers just have to pour dressing on, add a lid, shake and eat. It is a concept that has proved popular with consumers.

”Broccoli is ideal,” says Alexis Oladipo founder and director of Gym Bites. “It is high in fibre and proteins, and packed full with great nutrients. I find healthy eating on the go a bit tedious, especially after a workout. I wanted to be able to fuel people properly with real food, not protein shakes and tasteless bars. I wanted to create something filling but light, easy to grab and eat on the go. When it comes to salads, they’re always packaged in awkward salad bowls that you can’t really throw in your bag when you’ve had enough of eating it. With a Gym Bites salad jar, you can have some now and eat some later, the plastic PET is also great for recycling and reusing, which we encourage our customers to do.”

Snacking suspicion

Attention is also being paid to the snacking possibilities presented by broccoli. Nims Fruit Crisps have been experimenting with air-dried broccoli crisp snacks, while specialist company Giving Tree Snacks  has a range of vacuum fried broccoli crisps sold through Planet Organic, Holland & Barrett and other retailers as well as online. The company says that its special freeze-drying and vacuum-frying process allows 100% of the nutritional values to remain intact.

Trying to get young children to eat broccoli is usually difficult – but babyfood company Ella’s Kitchen not only provides a pureed broccoli, pear and pea mixture for little ones, it is actively promoting the idea of snacking on whole broccoli via its Veg for Victory campaign.

Cutting back on waste

Asda has taken a very different route, focusing on opportunities presented by the leaves of broccoli plants. Earlier this year, it became the first supermarket to stock sliced broccoli leaves. These are leaves that are usually cut off the stem during harvesting, and left to compost down on the ground. The leaves represent 70% of the plant, as usually only the heads are used. Instead Asda is encouraging people to eat them, as they are rich in vitamins, calcium and potassium. In fact, the leaves are actually the most nutritional part of the plant.

“We’re committed to tackling food waste at Asda, and are constantly looking at our produce to see where we can make a difference,” says Charlie Mills, fresh produce category manager at Asda. “When we discovered the delicious taste of broccoli leaf, coupled with its outstanding health benefits, we knew it was a clear winner.”

To encourage customers to experiment with broccoli leaves, Asda has been promoting a variety of cooking methods. It suggests frying the leaves in olive oil and garlic, eating raw in salads, steaming and sautéing ,or turning them into smoothies.

Although the leaves are relatively new as a food source in the UK, a US company Foxy Produce has been selling what it has dubbed Brocco leaves since 2014. “The BroccoLeaf promotes consumption of the whole vegetable and reduces food waste while creating a new vegetable category,” its website declares.

Beware demand dip ahead

Although demand for broccoli and related products is clearly present, there may be some shadows on the horizon according to Charlie Hicks, brand manager for UK foodservice at wholesale at Total Produce. “There was an explosion in the Diamondback Moth population in the summer which is probably the worst of all broccoli pests,” he says. “There was an almost biblical sighting of a two-mile long moth cloud in Herefordshire. On top of that, broccoli prices have been so low for the past couple of years that many growers tell me they have abandoned it.”

Only time will tell how far such concerns will affect long-term production, but at Coregeo is optimistic. “As Tenderstem® is a hybrid, we haven’t seen the decreasing sales and volume figures other pure broccoli suppliers and distributors have seen,” Toft says. “Tenderstem® is a cross between broccoli and Chinese Kale and the distinctive USP this vegetable offers gives us a clear standout. We believe this is one of the reasons Tenderstem® has seen year-on-year double digit growth.”

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