Door to Door Daikon

February 21, 2010 at 1:39 am 1 comment

By Carol Peppe Hewitt

At the end of a recent Local Lunch Friday Jason and Haruka presented us with a dilemma. They operate EdibleEarthscapes, and they were overstocked with daikon radishes. They brought boxes of daikon to the kitchen, and have hundreds more plants in the ground.

Sandi from ECO said she didn’t need them, as she is flush with daikon right now. I suggested we take them to the Asian markets in Cary to see what we could sell. Lyle jumped at the idea.

“Do you know where those stores are?” he asked.

Lyle has never shopped at an Asian market, and being on a hundred mile diet, it is unlikely he will shop there any time soon, as they specialize in faraway foods. Plus, Lyle says he doesn’t get out much.

“Sure,” I replied. “I even know the owner of one of them. ”

So the challenge was on and we set off with a box of big white tuber looking radishes. The mission was simple: come home with an empty box, a fistful of cash, and a buyer for the many boxes that would soon follow.

Our first stop was Grand Asia Market in Cary. The young woman in customer service rang for the produce manager and we explained our situation. “We have a box of wonderful local, sustainable daikon. Would you like to buy them? ”

We showed him a sample and he led us to the produce section to compare it with their selection. Theirs were much bigger. And tougher. And cheaper. We were up against the Shanghai price.

We countered that ours might taste better and out came a knife. Next thing we knew we were cutting samples and performing live taste tests in the aisle. The produce manager preferred their hotter radish. The young woman from the customer service desk preferred ours. Lyle commandeered an unsuspecting shopper to try each one and she preferred our daikon! Score! EdibleEarthscapes took the lead! Our product was a bit more expensive, but we worked out a deal.

They asked us to come back with a pretty sign that explains these are fresh, local, sustainable, and whatever other good “shelf talk” (as they say in the business) and they’d set up a separate display to see how they sell. They would also need to be individually wrapped or marked with a stamp on them to distinguish them from the other, less expensive product. OK. We could take the idea back to Jason and Haruka for consideration.

They sell fifty boxes a week. The trick is to deliver them into that market profitably.

Stop number two was the Triangle Indian Market on Chatham Street. I had met Nagi, the owner, before. He is an excellent businessman who not only owns the grocery, but also several restaurants and a movie theater. He and I had talked previously about finding local farmers that would be interested in growing some of the vegetable varieties he now imports from overseas. He was not there, but we got his card, took a good look at the vegetable offerings-where daikon was called “muli.” Here we were up against the Miami price, and out of luck. We would have bought a couple of warm samosas for the road, had we not stuffed ourselves with cabbage pancakes and homemade mayonnaise at Local Lunch.

The woman we showed our sample to said that only the people in the north of India would eat such a thing. Interesting.

Third stop was the Punjab Indian Restaurant across the parking lot. North or South India, we weren’t sure, but we took a radish in and asked to speak to the chef. The hostess that greeted us shook her head. The chef wouldn’t want any, but how much did they cost? She might take one for herself. “One dollar,” Lyle said, before I could jack the price. A second woman nearby said she would take one as well. We closed the deal and moved on. Back in the car Lyle called it a “sympathy sale,” since we were cold, and wet, and bedraggled looking. Fine, but we now had two dollars!

Lyle forced me to stop at a Korean restaurant he had spotted, assuring me that daikon would be big in Korean cuisine. We met the owner and she was gracious. She held our sample up lovingly and explained that it was only the Chinese that would eat such a thing.

Around the corner was a Chinese fast food place. We walked in and Lyle held up the sample daikon. She waved him off. “No, no, I don’t want that.”

Next stop was Patel Brothers, another Indian market. Again I showed our sample radish to the owner. The customers in the checkout line seemed interested as well, so I asked to borrow a knife to carve off some more sample pieces. “Oh no,” the man behind the check out quickly informed me. “They will not eat “mooly” in the afternoon, just the morning, because it ruins the breath.” Great. So much for my breath, which had clearly been ruined a few stops back. And now we have another word for daikon.

Lyle had cased out the produce section and noticed that their box of daikon radish was almost empty. He was convinced they would buy our entire box if we got the price right. Lyle brought the box in from the car and the fellow at the checkout began piling long radishes on their counter scale. After eight or ten they began to roll off. My suggestion that they not try to get them all on the scale at once fell on deaf ears. After a couple of avalanches they held. 16.18 pounds, and we got our cash.

A customer asked if we had brought the leaves. Darn. Not a one. They are very good cooked she said, and I promised to bring some back for her. Have we discovered another saleable product that is usually ending up in the compost bin? Now that would be exciting.

Going door to door with Jason and Haruka’s daikon was a tremendous success. We learned a lot. We made several connections that may pay off later and we got useful feedback everywhere we went. We went out with a full box and came home with an empty box and a bit of cash, so that counts for something. And we found out that the Asian markets are not a panacea for selling surplus daikon.

Good to know.

And what a blast. If we are going to re-engineer our foodshed, we are going to need to pay this tuition, to go talk to the grocers and get a thorough understanding of the markets we are playing in. Overstocked on daikon? Better knock on some doors.

Market research. What better way to spend a dreary February afternoon?

Entry filed under: Carol Peppe Hewitt, Sustainable Farming, Sustainable Food. Tags: , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Curtiss  |  February 23, 2010 at 9:37 am

    Great story!!

    I used to shop at all of those markets when I lived in Raleigh.

    If you are ever up in Greensboro, you should try the Super G Market. Biggest ethnic grocery supermarket I’ve ever been to and, believe me, in this case, bigger is better ;^)

    Keep up the good tales and the door-to-door adventures!



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