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October 17, 2010

Florida company introduces new, red celery

by Steve Karnowski

A Florida produce company has bet consumers will bite on the colorful crunch of its new product, red celery.

Red celery will hit selected supermarkets Dec. 1 said Dan Duda, president of Duda Farm Fresh Foods, which was set to unveil the new celery at a produce industry trade show in Orlando, Fla., on October 16.

"It's bright, it's red, it's different, it's unique," said Duda, who added that it has the same flavor and crunch of regular green celery.

It was nearly 20 years in the making, he said. One of the family owned company's celery breeders, Larry Pierce, started developing it in 1991, working off a European heritage variety using natural breeding methods.

Jean Ronnei, who oversees the award winning school meal programs of the St. Paul public schools, said the new celery could be a "perfect fit" for her cafeterias, which run "coolest new veggie" contests to encourage students to try fresh produce.

"We do eat with our eyes," Ronnei said, adding that she hoped it would be priced low enough for the school lunch market. "If there are efforts under way to jazz up veggies, I'm all for that," she said.

Red celery will be test marketed first on the west coast and in the northwest and southwest, Duda said. It will carry a premium price that will vary by location as they gauge how much extra shoppers are willing to pay. It will be rolled out nationwide sometime later. Duda declined to go into much detail about the company's marketing plans for competitive reasons and would not say which retailers would carry it or specify which cities.

American consumers used an average of just over 6 pounds of fresh celery per person last year, compared with about 8 pounds of fresh carrots, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture. The 2009 celery crop totaled 1.97 billion pounds, with a total value of $364.8 million.

Based in Oviedo, Fla., Duda Farm Fresh Foods says it cultivates 39,000 acres of produce in Florida, Georgia, California, Arizona and Michigan and ranks as one of the world's largest celery producers.

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