Brooklynites Cautiously Taste Forbidden Fruits

Sophia Hollander Jul 26 , 2016

Brooklynites barely bat an eye at artisanal honey or freshly milled flours. But at the newWhole Foods Market that opened Tuesday in Williamsburg they stopped and stared at an unusual display: clusters of elongated grapes shaped like tears.

The table was part of a pilot program that officials said they hope to expand to other Whole Foods locations soon. An electronic kiosk, run by produce supplier Baldor, allows customers to scroll through a list of exotic, seasonal produce not sold in the store and order customized amounts for pickup.

Prepare for the pineberries (white strawberries at $7.99 a pound), fresh huckleberries (like dark, thick-skinned blueberries with seeds at $19.99 a pound), apple blossoms ($15.99 apiece) and baby South African pineapples ($5.99 apiece). There is also a kale-Brussels sprout hybrid called lollipop kale sprouts.

“I think the level of culinary acceptance and expertise in a place like New York makes it an ideal location to launch something like this,” said Whole Foods spokesman Michael Sinatra,noting that New Yorkers may see some of these items on restaurant menus.

Some shoppers nodded fondly at the sight of a mangosteen (white lobes of fruit concealed within a hard brown shell). “Brings me back, man,” said a bare-chested shopper wearing a jean vest with animal-print patches.

But most gawked. Baldor stores 5,000 kinds of produce in its warehouse; the typical supermarket stocks 300 to 400 produce items, said Ben Walker, Baldor’s director of marketing and business development. The calculus is clear: The produce costs can be too high, the shelf lives too short.

“I don’t know if we’re going to set the world on fire with getting everyone to eat rambutan,” he said, referencing the punk-haired cousin to the litchi. But it was a start.

A wide-eyed boy with tousled blond curls spied the teardrop grapes. “What is that?” he breathed. Informed it was a grape, he stared for a moment, then turned. “Mommy!” he yelled, scampering off.

He returned quickly, tugging his mother,Danielle Haight. She inspected the fruits with interest. “I think it’s beautiful,” she said of the kiosk idea. Would she buy something? “We’d have to see the pricing,” she said. But “the idea is cool.”

Her son Samson, 9 years old, needed little convincing. “They’re sweet,” he said, sampling one eagerly. He also liked “the shape.”

The shape?

“It was just funny.”

His mother had a point. While the grapes were $13.99 for 2 pounds, items available through the kiosk cost as much as $849.99 a pound for fresh Australian black winter truffles and $179.99 a pound for fresh wasabi root. Organic zucchini flowers are $45.99 apiece, while porcini mushrooms go for $39.99 a pound.

It can be “a little steep,” Mr. Walker said.