Fresh Cut Fruits and Vegetables Market Fueled by Convenience

The fresh-cut fruit and vegetable category is being fueled by convenience and the new Dietary Guidelines.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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Hungry for healthy fresh fruits and vegetables but starved for meal preparation time, American consumers are flocking to pre-washed, pre-cut packaged fruits and vegetables at a blistering pace. Last year, they led the fresh cut category to $12 billion in sales.

The International Fresh-cut Produce Assn., Alexandria, Va., recently released “Fresh-cut Produce Fuels an America On-the-Go,” a report by PakIntell LLC and sponsored by Del Monte Fresh Produce. Behind packaged fruits and vegetables, packaged salads, with $2.6 billion in annual sales, are No. 2 in the category, followed by fresh-cut vegetables, with sales of $1.4 billion. But it’s fresh cut fruit sales, currently a $300 million-a-year category at retail, that is growing at double-digit increases and is predicted to top $1 billion in sales over the next three to four years, with the potential to surpass the salad category.

One of the reasons for the expected growth of the category is the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the basis for the Food Guide Pyramid – or whatever shape it will take. It recommends plenty of fruits and vegetables. Plenty more servings than Americans eat. Not counting potatoes, Americans consume a total of three servings of fruits and vegetables a day. The latest guideline ratchets the recommendation up to five to 13 servings a day, depending upon the individual. Thirteen a day!

It’s notable that 81 percent of respondents to a January national telephone survey of 900 consumers by the Produce Marketing Assn. (PMA), Newark, Del., say they have a clear understanding of what is meant by a serving of fruits and vegetables. But when asked to express in their own words what a “serving” is, their responses were wide-ranging. Servings were described as “less than one cup,” “one piece,” “a handful/fistful” and a “scoopful.” They agreed it is easier for them to understand a daily amount of fruits and vegetables when that amount is described as “cups” rather than “servings.” Eighty-two percent of women agreed with this idea, as did 79 percent of men.

Cutting and packaging makes fruit more portable and more convenient, as in these new recent launches from Ready Pac.

Even with a barrage of media stories about the new guidelines, PMA’s survey found that while 22 percent of consumers are somewhat familiar with the new guidelines, only 9 percent of the public is very familiar with them. As for changing their eating habits to include more fruits and vegetables, only 10 percent of consumers said they are likely to change their eating habits, regardless of their current level of awareness. Among the 9 percent of consumers who already are very familiar with the new guidelines, 40 percent said they are very likely to change their eating habits, while 22 percent said they are somewhat likely to.

Demographically, 13 percent of women said they are very likely to change their eating habits, but only 7 percent of men responded in this manner. High-income individuals, who are more likely to be familiar with the new guidelines, are less likely than other consumers to say they will change their eating habits as a result.

Of those who indicated they would increase their fruit and vegetable consumption, more than three-quarters (76 percent) cited health benefits as the reason. Diet/weight loss garnered 13 percent of responses, while 8 percent said they would eat more produce items out of habit/enjoy eating them. When asked to specify which fruits and vegetables they would eat more of in 2005, respondents chose: apples (39 percent), oranges (24 percent), bananas (19 percent), broccoli (16 percent), all/a variety of produce (11 percent), greens (collard/spinach/kale -- 11 percent), tomatoes (10 percent), carrots (9 percent), beans/green beans (9 percent), salads/lettuce (7 percent), corn (6 percent) and grapes (6 percent).

Vegetable consumption increased by 3 percent (to 204 lbs. per capita) in 2004, according to PMA, and 80 percent of vegetables are consumed at home, compared to 91 percent of fruits. Not surprisingly, since they tend to cook from scratch, Hispanics spend an average of 47 percent more on fresh produce than does the rest of the U.S. population.

Respondents to The Packer’s Fresh Trends 2004 consumer panel study say they buy more fresh produce than they did five years ago. Another 9 percent say they buy less, for a net gain of 18 percent. Demographics are key. Those aged 18 to 37 (+34 percent) and households with children less than six years of age (+36 percent) increased consumption most, followed by families with annual household incomes of $45,000 to $59,999 (+20 percent) and by Caucasian (+15 percent) and Hispanic households (+14 percent).

Altogether, respondents claim to prepare and serve meals made with fresh produce an average of 161 days a year. Those reporting the most days (189) are consumers aged 58 years or more, with those aged 18 to 37 reporting the least (140). Thirty-two percent buy more pre-trimmed, washed and bagged fresh produce than they did five years ago and 5 percent buy less for a net gain of 27 percent. Older boomers are the age group with the largest percentage net increase (28 percent). While all households with kids reported a bigger increase (31 percent) than those households without kids (25 percent), the largest increase was among households with kids aged 13 to 17 (36 percent), followed by households with kids aged 6 to 12 (32 percent).


Fresh new products

There were some innovative introductions recently including: New Dole Baby Spinach leaves in a convenient reusable package and Dole Spring Mix: baby lettuces, greens, endive and radicchio in a convenient reusable package. Both are from Dole Food Co., Westlake Village, Calif.
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