Selling & tasting lettuce

Testing the quality of produce we sell is always an interesting challenge. In some cases, like peas or cherry tomatoes, it’s easy. But we’ve always found lettuce a tougher item to judge. Often, our taste buds consider what we harvest to be a bit strong or bitter, but find that chilling sweetens the flavor. Also, taste buds are so subjective that what’s strong to us may be excellent to others.

Another difficult factor with lettuce is the wide variety of ways in which people use it. Someone who puts our lettuce in a salad covered with strongly flavored vegetables and ranch dressing is going to have a different experience than someone who eats it straight with a light drizzle of oil and vinegar (as we do). So do we aim our product solely at the oil & vinegar folks, discarding stronger-tasting product that would be fine in a heavy salad or sandwich, or do we not worry too much about it and risk selling something that’s too strong for pickier customers?
The final problem here is waste. We’ve had a significant amount of lettuce that we just didn’t think passed our taste threshold, and that was fed to the chickens. But it probably could have been sold to folks who were going to thoroughly combine it with other items; it was fresh and crispy and otherwise perfectly good. If I could know who it was going to, I’d be more likely to sell it. But I’d hate to sell a stronger head to someone who would take it home, eat it straight, and hate it.
So far, I’ve had many customers return week after week to buy the same lettuces, praising their quality and taste, so we must be doing something right. But like any business person, we often wonder who might have bought something once and never came back because they didn’t like it. And we’d love to sell more lettuce to those who would enjoy it.
So my question to our readership is, (1) what do you look for in fresh market lettuce, whether from us or others, and (2) how do you handle a market product that isn’t what you wanted?

3 thoughts on “Selling & tasting lettuce

  1. I'm not one of your customers, but I am a frequent farmer's market shopper here in Toronto (and previously in Chicago) and basically if I don't like something I've bought I don't buy it again. I like trying new things and accept I won't like everything I try.With lettuce, I much prefer a salad with a mix of lettuces than all one type anyway, so a strong taste adds complexity. If it's too strong for that use, I'll use it differently next time. Or not buy that variety again. But usually I can recognize that something is good quality and not my taste.Now if it were bad quality, I might bring it up with the farmer the following week. In fact, I may bring up that I didn't like something as well, but in a way that helps ensure I get things I do like the next time.Interestingly, there is a wild food vendor at our market who had some mushrooms we had never seen or had before and so we got some to try. The flavour was unbelievable, but a whole bunch were inedibly tough (and we got and followed cooking instructions from the vendor). Yesterday it came up somehow and it turns out the vendor was doing refunds because they felt so bad about what happened, which we happily took as a discount toward another product we wanted (and know we love – dried wild porcini mushrooms). In that case the vendor didn't realize that they were selling essentially inedible mushrooms along with really wonderful ones.Hope that helps 🙂

  2. I don't think I've ever tasted lettuce I didn't like. When I don't like lettuce it's usually the texture that's objectionable–like the stuff you buy at the supermarket during the winter that's really tough. If it's fresh and tender, I like it.I expect a little dirt, but I will admit that when I've bought lettuce at the FM that had to be washed in more than three changes of water, I've been turned off. Also, when I haven't liked something about meat I've bought, I have said something to the vendor, but I've never followed up about vegetables–they seem less consistent, and subject to the weather. If I get a watery strawberry, I figure it's because it rained a lot right before it was picked, rather than that the farmer did something wrong. In previous years, Kenny Durzan has done a "money back" promotion if you bought a melon from him that wasn't sweet, but I don't know how many people take him up on the offer. In my experience, Missouri melons are almost never sweet, but I buy them anyway!

  3. Thanks for the feedback. We would certainly give money back or trade if anyone reported a problem with our products (hasn't happened yet). Lettuce washing is an interesting topic that I'll have to write on more. We struggle with the balance between wanting to sell clean store-like lettuce and the fact that many of our fresh varieties are not commercial varieties that can be abused; even gentle washing starts to rip and bruise leaves of the really tender, tasty varieties. Theresa, you're right that often variations on produce quality are related to weather conditions (cherry tomatoes are particularly susceptible to losing their flavor to rain). There are also times when the handling and presentation of the produce by the farmer makes a huge difference, though. It's hard for the customer to notice, but some farmers pay far more attention to the handling of their products than others, and that can affect the flavor and quality as well. You'd never know, though, unless you bought the same thing from two different growers and compared.