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A Conversation with city’super fruit buyer
We get the freshest news on the selection of premium produce for spring from city’super senior fruit and vegetable buyer Annie Chan.
Each of the colorful and nutritious gems you’ve handpicked for the shopping cart is first selected by people passionately dedicated to fresh produce. Annie Chan is one of those people. Her tenure at city'super began back in 1996, selling home-style cookies at Aunt Stella’s. She joined the fruit and vegetable department as merchandiser four years later and is now a senior buyer.
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Could you explain your work as a buyer?
We see ourselves as lifestyle curators that source fruit and vegetables. The sampling stage is merely a humble beginning followed by a lengthy process until we stock the product. The work sees us collaborate with vendors from around the world from places like Japan, Taiwan and Italy. To make sure we select the best quality available, we work closely with the quality assurance team. We also travel the world attending food fairs and building relationships with local farmers.
What are some of the most exotic fruits you have come across?
Japanese farmers conjure up the most unique fruit, always surprising us with their innovation and extravagant packaging. Recently we received small, ruby-colored boxes of heart-shaped strawberries. We hope these will provide another Valentine’s Day gift idea for our customers. Another whimsical find are the newly bred pink flesh apples from Aomori prefecture in far northern Japan. They give a more sour note on the palate and are best suited to cooking and making juice.
Do you have any highlights for spring?
Strawberries are definitely in the spotlight this season. Customers will find that the white strawberries are adorable and delicious. They have names to match: Snow Rabbit and Angel Berry. Both are in season until April. You can easily identify them by their size. Snow Rabbits are smaller and softer. Other fruit in season includes the long-stemmed strawberries, pears, cherries and Aomori red apples.
How did you come across white strawberries?
Last month, we visited strawberry farmers in Saga, Japan, where the fruit is now in season. We spent five days visiting four farms. Just one farmer won our approval, Ide-san.
Australia Tasmanian cherries
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France Conference pears and Japan Aomori Mutsu apples
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What’s so special about your collaboration with Ide-san?
Ide-san is truly a strawberry veteran, with a dedication to growing sweet fruit. He has been farming strawberries on his property for 50 years, since his time in junior high. We’ve collaborated with him for four years because he knows what our customers need and he caters to their requirements, so we developed a long term partnership.
What is the philosophy behind Ide-san’s farming and his produce?
The magic lies in his attitude, and Ide-san’s farm blooms with life and energy. He deeply believes that not one strawberry should go to waste. With white strawberries being viewed as hybrids, handling the seed, monitoring and controlling the light contributes a big part to their white color. Although truckloads are shipped from his farm, Ide-san has taught us to treat strawberries individually, even when it comes to picking them. Picking involves using two fingers to cradle the strawberry and, in an upward motion, give it a very gentle tug as opposed to ripping them with force.
Is there a system for grading Japanese strawberries?
Amaou strawberries from Fukuoka are classified by their shape and size. DX grade strawberries have a beautiful teardrop shape and are symmetrical, while G grade strawberries come in different shapes. DX grade strawberries are further categorized by their weight: 10g to 15g; 20g to 25g; and 25g to 35g. Weight is not relevant for G grade strawberries. 
What are your thoughts on local consumers’ demand for and their knowledge of fruit?
All consumers are very health conscious nowadays. For example, they can accept organic fruit with tiny flaws as they are free of pesticides. In the past, many people would have returned the fruit to the shop. They are also more willing to pay a matching price. The fruit baskets and hampers at city'super are popular gifts for Chinese New Year.