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Famous Chef THE PRODUCE NEWS April 12, 2004

THE RETAIL VIEW: Major retailer and famous chef get behind squash launch
By Tim Linden

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, CA — You can't do a whole lot better than having one of the nation's premier chefs, as well as one of the country's largest retailers, behind the introduction of a new squash.

If New Zealand's Buttercup squash doesn't make it in the U.S. marketplace, it won't be because of lack of exposure. The product was introduced primarily on the West Coast during the last week of March with Chef Paul Prudhomme touting its great flavor at the Golden Gate Produce Terminal, here, and at the Safeway company headquarters in Pleasanton, CA. The chef's appearances received good play in the local press and he was featured on a nationally syndicated food show hosted by The Produce Pair.

In addition, Safeway gave the new squash ample space in many of its stores, selling the product cut in half, wrapped in plastic wrap with a Chef Prudhomme spice

The program was pulled together by the Renaissance Food Group LLC, the Sacramento, CA-based exclusive North American importer of the overwrapped product.

Renaissance President and CEO Jim Catchot said that the proprietary Buttercup squash arrived on the West Coast of the United States by ship in late March. "We brought over about 100 bins and will be marketing it for the next 10 weeks." Safeway will be the predominant retail vehicle, with the product being featured in major West Coast cities as well as Phoenix.

Phil Fendyan of the Renaissance Food Group was responsible for putting the initial promotion together. During the San Francisco wholesale market event on April 2, he told The Produce News that the various components to the program literally jumped at the opportunity. "We got connected with Chef Prudhomme and he was excited about the opportunity. Everything just came together."

Mr. Prudhomme requested a few cases and then spent the better part of a week developing recipes. "I played around with about 100 different recipes," he said. "It was actually very easy to work with because it has good flavor and it related well to recipes that I have developed for the sweet potato, or the yam as we call it [in New Orleans]."

Besides being an accomplished chef, Mr. Prudhomme runs his own food company, which specializes in the packaging and selling of many different spices and sauces at the retail level, featuring his name and likeness. He got involved in this effort "because I love food, I love to cook, and Safeway is a good customer of mine."

Like any other food marketer, this gave Mr. Prudhomme the opportunity to interact with a major retailer. His Northern California appearances also gave him the opportunity to tout his own products as he was talking about New Zealand Buttercup squash.

Dan "the Produce Man" & "Guido the Gardener" are The Produce Pair as they interview Chef Paul Prudhomme at Bay Area Herbs South San Francisco Produce Market
During the radio show taped on the South San Francisco market dock of Bay Area Herbs & Specialties, owned and operated by Steve Hurwitz, Chef Prudhomme cooked and passed out samples of one of the New Zealand squash dishes. The Buttercup and ham medley was a hit for the show's hosts as well as the salesmen, buyers and warehousemen that passed by. The product featured numerous items including Chef Paul Prudhomme's Vegetable Magic.

Sounding a bit like Paul Prudhomme himself, Mr. Catchot said that the Buttercup squash has a "real sweet, velvety, rich flavor." By look, it resembles a butternut squash with its hard shell and dark color.

Though the chef seemed like a natural as he pushed the various proprietary elements of this particular recipe, he told The Produce News that this is the first time he had ever done this type of appearance. His participation was covered by his own firm as was the development of the Buttercup squash cookbook, a 12-page pamphlet with nine different recipes featuring herbs from Chef Prudhomme's company, Magic Seasonings Blends Inc. in New Orleans.

The famous chef said that he loves to develop recipes with vegetables as they are one of the main ingredients at his famous K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans. "Of course you have to have meat dishes because that is what people will pay for, but I love cooking with vegetables. We have no freezer at our restaurant because we only use fresh products."

Reached just a few days after the promotional appearances, Mr. Catchot said that Renaissance was very pleased with the publicity generated by the chef and efforts by Safeway to promote the new squash. Food page press releases had been sent to various local newspapers, and Renaissance was expecting good play there also. He said it was still too early to gauge the success of the program, but he was clearly expecting big results.

Mr. Catchot said that the Buttercup squash has been very successfully introduced in Japan, which currently takes the bulk of New Zealand's output. He expects to build on this year's efforts and have more supplies and greater distribution in 2005.