By Don Schrack, staff writer
Immature green garbanzos are rich in fiber and folic acid, and offer calcium, iron and vitamins A and C, says Morgan Murray, general manager for Califresh of California LLC,Sanger. Murray says Califresh is on track to sell 1.6 million pounds of garbanzos this year.
Garbanzos are the world's most popular, most consumed legume, and if Sanger-based Califresh of California LLC has its way, they will become even more popular across the U.S.
Four-year old Califresh is marketing immature green garbanzos. They're not the blanched, off-white beans that are a staple of salad bars. The thin-skinned pod of the Califresh garbanzo is an inch or more long, about half that size in diameter and contains no more than two peas.
Brian Santigo, director of marketing for Califresh, said the immature garbanzos have been popular for centuries in the Middle East and more recently in Mexico. He said they're mostly eaten as snack food but are also used in salads and other dishes.
Califresh general manager Morgan Murry said the immature garbabzos could also be steamed or, most popular in Mexico, roasted. They are rich in fiber and folic acid, he said, and offer calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. Murray said they're also high in potassium and low in sodium.
Bob Rinker, the company's business development manager, said the company's strategic plan is to focus on the close-to-home markets in the San Joaquin Valley and the Los Angeles area because of the high percentage of first- and second-generation Mexican-American residents.
We want to make it work first in our own back yard," Rinker said.
The plan seems to be working in the valley.
Rick Johnson, director of produce / floral for Food Maxx Stores, a division of Modesto-based Save Mart Supermarkets, said his stores stock the product year round. He said the green garbanzos are very popular with Hispanics, and they seem to be developing a fan base among consumers from other ethnic backgrounds.
If a retailer wants to attract Mexican-American shoppers he should have this product," Santiago said.
Califresh offers the garbanzos in bulk and in 8- and 16-ounce modified atmosphere microwaveable bags. Santiago said bulk fresh garbanzos have a maxium shelf life of about ten days. The bags, he said, have a shelf life of about 21 days.
Rinker said the garbanzos retail for about $1.99 for the smaller bags and about $2.99 for the larger size.
Santiago said Califresh also offers the product in quick frozen bags for foodservice.
Murray said Califresh is on track to sell 1.6 million pounds this year. He said Califresh has contract growers from Bakersfield to Sacramento and in the Salinas Valley. They grow about 6,000 acres.
Murray said the garbanzos are planted in stages in the fall with harvesting beginning in early Spring. When the domestic harvest finishes in early fall, the company imports from Mexico.
The harvest costs can be high, Murray said, and the harvest window is narrow. To keep prices competitive, Murray said the company has designed and built mechanical harvesters.