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 â€“ 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.
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).
Ready Pac Microwave Spinach or Microwave Leafy Greens Blend from Ready Pac Produce, Irwindale, Calif., are available in the produce aisle. You just turn up the heat when you get home. They cook in just 3 minutes in the microwave, right in their own bags!
Another convenience product is Ready Pac Party Bowl Salad Blends, family-sized 14.5 oz. ready to serve bowl salads. Packaged in resealable clear plastic bowls that make it easy for consumers to "drop, dress and serve" from the same container at meal time, the blends are available in two varieties: Baby Spinach Blend, a combination of baby leaf spinach, shredded carrots and shredded red cabbage; and Spring Mix Blend, mixed baby greens topped with chopped vegetables.
Ready Pac also introduced protein-added Bistro To Go bowl salads available in five varieties including: Chicken Caesar, Chef, Spring Mix Veggie, Spinach Bacon, and Greek. Its Tanimura & Antle brand offers some interesting salad options including Caesar, Caesar Lite, sweet sesame Oriental, or Santa Fe Ranch salad. And for the kids, Cool Cuts, which carry the official Warner Brothers logo, as well as artwork of favorite Looney Tunes characters Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the Tasmanian Devil for great kids’ appeal, are available in 6.75-oz., three-pack varieties including Cool Cuts Carrots with Ranch Dip, Cool Cuts Celery with Ranch Dip, and Cool Cuts Celery with Peanut Butter.
Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce Co.'s fresh-cut fruit options include a variety of convenient, fresh-cut tasty delights. Cantaloupe and honeydew, watermelon, multi-colored fruit medleys, tart citrus salad, orange slices and grapefruit slices, and mango chunks and kiwi slices are all there to tempt you.
Brand new to the category from Newman’s Own Organics, Aptos, Calif., is a line of organic packaged salads in several varieties including Organic Baby Spring Mix, Spinach, Organic Baby Romaine, and Organic Baby Arugula in 5-oz. bags and Organic Chopped Romaine and Organic Italian Salad in 9-oz. bags. All they need now is organic versions of Newman’s Own salad dressings t go with them.
Mona Doyle, publisher of The Shopper Report, finds shoppers are showing interest in increasing their overall produce consumption and continue to be wowed by the time and work savings offered by pre-cut fruits, vegetables and salad greens. Asked if they would use more pre-cuts, twice as many shoppers expect to use more than they did before. One of the other findings that emerged from the shoppers’ comments is the overlap between heavy users of pre-cuts and heavy users of frozen and canned vegetables. Just as fusion cuisine is mixing ethnic foods and flavors in the same dishes and meals, Doyle found consumers are fusing their pre-cuts and frozens in the same dishes and meals.