Early this year, cold and wet growing conditions in both Florida and the Southwest caused an arugula shortage across the U.S. Retailers and restaurants alike were left without a key crop.
To fill the gap, some CEA operations are boosting their arugula production and using the opportunity to gain market share. One company — Bowery Farming — is doing that specifically in the Tri-state area. Below, Bowery’s Executive Vice President of Sales Carmela Cugini discusses the company’s approach to arugula in the wake of the shortage.
Produce Grower: Is an arugula shortage something Bowery and other CEA operations can use as a marketing opportunity?
Carmela Cugini: Yes, it is. But hopefully, we are getting out our message on a regular basis already. But these types of things let us connect the dots with folks.
We go to our sales presentations with individuals and explain that we are a 365-day-a-year operation, we can grow more quickly and we can address our supply chain in a very automatic way. I think people hear that and they nod and they get it. But when something like this happens, the reality of it hits and then they not only hear the value but hear it personally and that’s when it really matters.
PG: With these shortages and recent E. coli scares, is food safety a more resonate message for both your retail partners and the end consumer?
CC: The produce world is filled with an amazing breadth of experience, so almost anybody I talk to has some 30 or 40 years of doing this. And they know the issues with the supply chain. One of the things they are really focusing on is blockchain and how they can drive transparency so that consumers know their produce is safe. Walmart is doing [this] with the big blockchain initiative they have with IBM and [when] we were at the Digital Grocery Summit, [blockchain] was a big topic there.
What indoor-grown, and what Bowery’s system does, is be transparent from the seed to the shelf by automating and scanning and processing data. We know every place that plant has been and we can provide that data to the retailer. There has never been a level of transparency like we have today. Having been on the other side of that table [as a retailer], as a buyer, a recall was always damaging to a category — not just from a profit standpoint, but more importantly, lost trust with the consumer. Trust is at the core of it all.
PG: With the infrastructure and retail network Bowery has in place, how is the company able to respond and fill safe open on the shelf?
CC: We heard about the shortages; we reached out to our customers and said, ‘Hey, we can help you,’ and the light bulb went off. People hear our benefit, but they are now starting to connect the dots as to what it means. We proactively reached out to some existing partners and adjusted our planting schedules after getting an idea of their needs.
One thing that is great about the way we grow is we have a very nimble system that is automated and flexible in a way that allows us to adjust our demand plant, grow our crops more quickly and then meet our customer’s demand. [In the beginning of February], our shipments grew over 168% on arugula and we are seeing velocity upwards of 90 units per store per week.