Donna Berry 2019CHICAGO — The packaging and branding of fruits and vegetables continues to grow as marketers try to differentiate their offerings. Call outs are being made to growing qualities, unique flavor profiles and nutritional benefits.

This premiumization of produce was prominent at the annual exposition of the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, held June 10-12 in Chicago. The program provided visitors the ability to experience the fresh produce supply chain, from grower to retailer.

Premiumization is all about convenience. It includes everything from pre-washing, trimming and slicing, dicing or spiraling products. It also involves offering produce-centric meal kits as well as simply branding fruits and vegetables and marketing them for their special attributes, such as sweetness or snackability.

One such example is the new Cosmic Crisp brand apple variety, which is the result of 20 years of study and research by the tree fruit breeding program at Washington State University, Pullman, Wash. Cosmic Crisp brand apples are a cross between Enterprise and Honeycrisp. The large, juicy, red apple has a firm and crisp texture that provides ample sweetness and tartness, making it an excellent eating and baking apple. It is naturally slow to brown when cut and maintains its texture and flavor in storage for more than a year. The sweet, crisp apple will be harvested by growers throughout Washington for retail delivery in December.

Such new offerings are designed to attract more consumers, inviting them to have more fruit and vegetables in their diet. This is something health professional have been preaching for decades.

“The produce industry’s best opportunity to drive category growth lies in increased consumption frequency,” said Anne-Marie Roerink, president, 210 Analytics, L.L.C., San Antonio, and author of The Power of Produce 2019, a study published by The Food Marketing Institute, Arlington, Va., and launched at the Southern Produce Council’s Southern Exposure 2019. “While nearly 100% of American households buy fresh produce, only 41% of shoppers eat it daily. However, 97% try to eat more fresh produce. Dinner, snacking and lunch are key avenues to increase consumption.”

Power of Produce chart

That is something Green Giant Fresh, Salinas, Calif., tries to do with its Veggie Bowl concept.

“The Veggie Bowl concept is about providing a healthier take on traditionally calorie-heavy regional cuisine, and we are proud of the way we’ve brought to life these satisfying flavors for a smarter grab-and-go meal experience,” said Jamie Strachan, chief executive officer. “We are constantly exploring ways to delight consumers with ways to incorporate vegetables into one’s day.”

The Power of Produce study showed that 4 in 10 shoppers seek convenient snack options. Ms. Roerink suggested produce marketers and retailers offer shopping and preparation convenience and ideation to help consumers integrate fresh produce across meal occasions more often.

“Value-added produce delivers on the ongoing demand for time-saving solutions,” Ms. Roerink said. “The growth in value-added produce is fueled by greater assortment, increased household penetration and a higher consumption frequency. Price is the leading barrier to accelerated growth.

“Leverage price promotions and cross-merchandising to prompt trial and inform the shopper about product quality, freshness and preparation for greater engagement.”

Growing-related attributes continue to outpace conventional produce sales, and shoppers want more of it, according to the research. Organic, locally grown and other growing-related claims are generating new dollars in produce.

Tanimura & Antle hydroponic butter lettuce“Hydroponic- or greenhouse-grown produce is widely accepted by consumers, and deemed tasty and nutritious,” Ms. Roerink said. “Shopper education is likely to benefit the already positive perception.”

Merchandising matters, the study showed. Packaged produce plays a growing role based on sales trends and changing consumer preferences.

“Given the growing share of organic and value-added produce, packaged produce has grown to 53% of total sales,” Ms. Roerink said. “Additionally, more millennials prefer packaged than pick-your-own produce. Shoppers do want the ability to see the items and like packaging aimed at improved shelf life. Packaging also allows for additional branding and consumer education.”

Consumers have the highest interest in nutrition and origin information. They also appreciate preparation and storage instructions, as well as restaurant forms and flavors.

One such example comes from Fresh Express, Orlando, Fla., which is introducing Premium Slaw Salad Kits in three chef-inspired varieties. Each bag contains all the components to mix together a crisp, boldly flavored slaw side dish.

“Consumers continue to look for new and delicious meal options that replicate chef-crafted dishes they enjoy when dining out,” said Michael Golderman, marketing brand leader, Fresh Express, Orlando. “Our chefs at the Fresh Express Innovations Kitchen carefully selected flavor combinations and unique ingredients to create three restaurant-quality offerings that can serve as a side, a topping for burgers or sliders, or eaten on its own, making every meal special, exciting, yet deliciously easy and simple.”

View slideshow of innovation at United Fresh 2019.