Fresh fruit is an indulgent, sweet, juicy experience that many consumers crave. USDA guidelines say we need five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables daily. The National 5-A-Day for Better Health Program since 1991 has been trying to get us to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables per day. But approximately 70 percent of Americans do not consume this amount, often because they think it is too difficult or time-consuming to prepare.
Most consumers think they consume more fruit servings per day than they actually do (most are getting one serving per day). This suggests consumption of fresh fruit is part of their mental framework of food and is a familiar thought, but turning the thought into action is not happening.
Fizzy Fruit Co. (www.fizzyfruit.com), Portland, Ore., looked at how to take fruit a step further and change the experience of fruit for people by adding carbonation. It started with red seedless grapes and has plans to add pineapple, oranges, apples and other fruits, somewhat dependent upon seasonality. The result is a slightly sweeter taste with that carbonated tang. The product, also called Fizzy Fruit, is easy to consume and uniquely refreshing -- and perhaps will increase the number of fruit servings per day.
The company began in 2005, initially targeting school vending and foodservice. During 2006 it slowly spread to retail and early this year reached widespread distribution via Wal-Mart, 7-Eleven and Bi-Lo stores across 15 southeastern states.
Understanding the marketplace
The fruit products market includes packaged fruit, fruit juices and fruit confectionary; all together, sales are $20.8 billion. The largest category is fruit juices followed by packaged fruit. Top producers of packaged fruit are Del Monte, ConAgra, Sunsweet, Sun-Maid Growers, Paradise, Dole, Waymouth Farms, Mariani and Ocean Spray.
Growth for fruit products has been fairly flat over the past five years. While fruit sales overall have stabilized after the low-carb diet, frozen fruit sales have grown. Focus areas for this category include health and wellness trends and new products based on antioxidant content and organic heritage.
Produce accounts for 12 percent of retail grocery store sales, yet keeping fresh fruit in stock without spoilage is a major concern for retailers, too.
Creating a product that moves consumers to a new space is tricky. In this case, using the standards of both carbonated beverages and fresh fruit makes the journey a little easier.
The majority of Americans (88 percent) snack at least once a day. The frequency of snacking declines with age, from a high of 3.1 snacks per day among 1-2-year-olds to fewer than two snacks among those 70 and older. Since snacking is such a part of our everyday lives, and consumers are trying to eat healthier, Fizzy Fruit made a snack with all the attributes of fresh fruit but with the unique refreshment of carbonated beverages.
Our own Crave It! and Drink It! Insight databases indicate fruit is one of the most highly craved foods, fitting in between cheesecake and steak. It can be more craveable than ice cream or chocolate. Its craveablity is driven by the product and emotional attributes. It is a very emotional food.
The key attributes for fresh fruit in ranked order are: taste, product appearance, thirst, aroma, season, texture and mood. Consumers are looking for "fresh fruit … ripe and in season … premium quality." The sensory aspects and the emotional ties to stress reduction and relaxation are key drivers for fresh fruit. Fresh fruit is consumed at mid-afternoon, mid-morning, breakfast and late evening/right before bed. Dried fruit is much more difficult to understand. It is less familiar to consumers.
Carbonation in beverages spells refreshment for consumers in familiar carbonated beverages (cola, lemon lime, some waters). When refreshment is considered for other beverages, little or no carbonation is important. Interest in carbonation spikes for teens and young adults.
The key trends are convenience, healthfulness and nostalgia.
Convenience: Snacks are available in every possible form of packaging. They can be consumed on the go and in a variety of occasions. New packaging is focused on cars and single-serving sizes, especially 100-calorie packages. However, fruit is not as convenient. It can be messy, with juice running down your arm. At the end, you have to find someplace to deposit the skin or pit. And it has a short shelf life.
Healthfulness: No problem here: Fruit is a poster child for healthfulness. But Fizzy Fruit must be careful keeping the all-natural halo while adding carbonation.
Nostalgia: Fruit was always something that your mom put in your lunch as a kid. You were always told to eat the fruit (you did not have to be reminded to eat the cookies). This was in many ways the emotional armor that your mother gave you to get through your tough day at school.
Fizzy fruit comes in a 5-oz. (single-serving) plastic jar, which is vacuum-packed to maintain the carbonation. It is priced around $1.99. The packages we sampled contained red seedless grapes. The product is 100 calories and fits the current interest in portion control.
The package is clear so you can see the fruit. "All natural 100 percent fruit" is called out on the front. The lid suggests this product is for kids (and kids at heart) and speaks of "bubbly grapes bursting with flavor." The package has a pull-top lid under the plastic lid, which can leave sharp edges -- although the package does warn the user, and the company already is planning a package redesign to eliminate it.
The romance of carbonated fruit is evident. It's "a celebration … bubbly fresh fruit that dances on your tongue and pops with flavor," the package says. "Refreshing fun, natural nourishment … smiles guaranteed."
Aroma, flavor and texture are critical to the perception of quality of fruit and refreshing beverages. The group of consumers (kids and young adults) for which it appears targeted split into two groups as they tasted the product. The group that loves fruit perceived this product to be artificially flavored or "off." They did not like the product, feeling someone had messed around with their fruit.
The reluctant fruit group thought this product was fun, playing with the grapes and the tingling of the carbonation in their mouths. Adults remarked this was like "pop rocks" in your mouth. They perceived it was sweet and very refreshing, and maybe odd.
However, some noticed it was a little sticky and messy like real fruit, with some juice pouring out. This makes it hard to eat Fizzy Fruit around computers, TV or on the go. If you did not eat the product in one sitting, but used the container to carry it with you, by the end of the day the carbonation was gone and the fruit was beginning to taste spoiled.
Does the product deliver?
The brand promises you will feel happy about your snacking, that it is natural fun. But this product is polarizing. Fizzy Fruit delivers to those consumers who are not that fond of fruit. The carbonation and grape size are fun to play with and to roll around in your mouth. But for those who like fruit to be fruit, this product is "just wrong."
How to make the idea bigger: The pop-top lid is a concern for kids. Finding a way to keep the carbonation longer also would help. Since the package is just one serving of fruit, some were concerned by the cost. The experience has to be impactful to justify the $1.99 price.
This is a new product space for fruit. It will take a while for people to determine how it fits into their lives. Long-term repeat behavior is a concern.
Rating: The product, does deliver on all the promises for those consumers willing to play with their framework of fruit. Given the difficulty of getting people to eat any fruit, this may fit for those looking for something a little different from a healthy snack.
Market Potential: Okay, but not for everyone. Carbonating something that is not a beverage is an interesting -- but risky -- innovation.
Hollis Ashman is chief strategist and Jacqueline Beckley is president of the Understanding & Insight Group, a strategy, business and product development firm that connects with consumers using qualitative and quantitative approaches. For more information, see www.theuandigroup.com.