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Dietary trends bring upsurge in cauliflower demand

Issue Date: January 20, 2021
California farms produce more than three-quarters of the nation’s cauliflower crop, which has seen increasing demand. The crop’s rise in popularity has also brought an influx of cauliflower imports, mostly from Mexico.
Photo/Richard Green

In response to rising culinary interest in cauliflower, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says, farmers have been growing more—and the nation has been importing more.

A USDA outlook report noted that fresh cauliflower has enjoyed "several surges of popularity," beginning in the 1940s, when per capita availability peaked at 3.6 pounds per person. Beginning in the 1990s, USDA said, interest in fresh-market cauliflower waned.

"Then, in 2015, interest began to soar until per capita availability reached 3 pounds per person in 2019," the report said.

The upsurge in cauliflower has been driven by the popularity of low-carb and gluten-free dietary trends, USDA analysts said, noting that those trends had been "embraced and furthered" by food manufacturers that have introduced new products featuring fresh and frozen cauliflower.

Cauliflower has become an ingredient in gluten-free products including pizza crusts, tortillas, crackers, chips, mac and cheese, bread, rice and others, the report said, thanks to cauliflower's mild natural flavor and ability to take on many seasonings.

The farm value of the U.S. fresh cauliflower crop reached $466 million in 2019, USDA said, up 12% from the 2016-18 average.

California leads the nation in production, growing more than three-quarters of the domestic crop, with nearly 39,000 acres harvested in 2019. Harvested acreage in the state has varied between 31,000 and 40,000 during the past decade.

Monterey County produces more than half the California cauliflower crop, with Santa Barbara, Imperial, San Luis Obispo and Riverside counties rounding out the state's main production areas, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

As consumption of fresh cauliflower has risen, so have cauliflower imports, mainly from Mexico, the USDA report said, noting that during the previous five years, fresh-market cauliflower imports rose an average of 37% a year.

In 2019, imports accounted for nearly 23% of domestic availability—a proxy for consumption—up from 13% in 2014 and 5% in 2009, USDA said.

"Imports of fresh cauliflower totaled 231 million pounds in 2019 but are projected to decline 10% in 2020 due to the impact of the pandemic," the report said.

Most cauliflower for processing goes to frozen use, USDA said, noting that manufacturers have moved much of the processing to lower-cost facilities in Mexico. In 2019, Mexico accounted for nearly 60% of the frozen cauliflower imported into the U.S.

California and Oregon have been the top domestic processors of cauliflower, but the USDA report said the "vast majority" of frozen cauliflower products sold in the U.S. was imported.

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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