CHICAGO — The United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., held its annual conference June 13-15, 2017, in Chicago. The show featured a rebranded program designed for attendees to experience the fresh produce supply chain from grower to retailer and everything in between, including mechanical harvesting, robotics, packing and packaging.

The United FreshMKT Expo component of the show featured recent innovations for the produce department, with convenient and portable fresh foods dominating the exhibition. Exhibitors showcased an array of new fresh foods, including prepared meal solutions, snacks, juices, salsas, soups, dips and more. Within the expo was a special organic showcase dedicated to this growing sector within the produce department.


One of the highest barriers for produce consumption is preparation, according to the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Hockessin, Del. Suppliers are responding. Single-serve salads, along with fruit and vegetable snacks were plentiful on the expo floor. Consumers who crave them continually look for tempting new flavors and added convenience.

Some exhibitors had culinary professionals presenting retailers and operators with merchandising and preparation ideas. This included such concepts as vegetable kabobs in the deli department and guacamole bars next to the self-serve salad and soup buffets.

Through attention-grabbing packaging and displays, educational signage, recipe ideas and sampling, along with callouts to locally grown, organic and even branding, retailers are growing produce department sales. Cross merchandising throughout the store encourages additional purchase. Think lemons in the seafood department and avocados by fajita meat.  

Making guacamole
Guacamole bars encourage shoppers to “top their guac” with everything from diced and sliced meats, nuts and savory crunchy bits.

Apio Inc., Guadalupe, Calif., a producer of fresh-cut vegetables and salads for the United States and Canada under the Eat Smart brand, is answering the call with its new Salad Shake Ups salad bowls. The line’s three initial offerings feature 100% clean label ingredients. Each salad’s patented package comes with an interior tray that serves as a lockable lid, making it convenient and easy to mix the toppings and dressing.

“Our research tells us that these delicious and convenient single-serve salad bowls are just what consumers want,” said Anne Byerly, vice-president of marketing. “The growing segment of health-focused shoppers want more than products that are simply lower in calories. They also need clean label, nutrient-dense ingredients and restaurant-quality taste. Salad Shake Ups meet those needs, and that’s why we think they’ll bring new consumers to the category and help retailers boost sales and profits in the total single-serve category.

“Every Salad Shake Ups salad bowl contains at least 10 ingredients, with distinctive and colorful combinations of vegetables, dried fruits and diverse sources of plant protein that create satisfying flavors and textures.”

Each bowl has a unique leaf-shaped, film-sealed top. When consumers pull back the top, they find a tray with packets of toppings and a fork.

“They remove the tray to reveal the salad blend, then pour the toppings and the dressing onto the vegetables,” Ms. Byerly said. “Next, they flip over the tray, snap it onto the bowl, shake to mix the ingredients, and then unsnap the lid and eat the salad with the fork. Easy mixing, and no mess.”

Eat Smart is the first brand in the non-organic salad kit and tray category to commit to clean ingredients and labeling, with plans for all products to contain a 100% clean label by the end of 2018. All Eat Smart products will be free from high-fructose corn syrup, artificial preservatives, hydrogenated fats, as well as artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners.

Fresh produce display case
One of the highest barriers for produce consumption is preparation. Cut and washed produce packs, including the increasing popular veggie noodle concept, are helping get more vegetables on the dinner plate.

On the snacking side, produce suppliers are discovering that children are a great target customer, as parents are often seeking ways to gets their children to eat more fruits and vegetables. Retailers appreciate fruit and vegetable snack packs for children, as they command a higher margin. Parents welcome their merchandising in special display cases at the beginning of the supermarket, and subsequent placement in the basket. This often provides accompanying children with some entertainment to make the shopping trip go smoother.

Historically food marketing to children encouraged unhealthy food and beverage preferences, purchase requests and consumption patterns, according to the World Health Organization. By merchandising and marketing produce in the same “kid-friendly” way that candy, chips and sugary cereals are promoted, children may be more drawn to healthier snacks. 

That is the basis of the partnership between the Dole Food Co., Westlake Village, Calif., and Disney Consumables, Burbank, Calif. The two companies have launched a co-branded assortment of fresh produce featuring iconic Disney, Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel characters.

“Disney and Dole have a shared mission of providing high-quality produce to help families lead healthier lives,” said Josh Silverman, executive vice-president of global licensing, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media. “As an industry leader in licensed food, we are excited to pair our unrivaled portfolio of brands, characters and stories with Dole’s fresh fruits and vegetables to support parents as they encourage their kids to make healthier food choices.” 

Del Monte vegetable noodles
Many retailers have invested in vegetable spiraling machines to make fresh veggie noodles in house. Others are starting to stock the growing number of products from branded suppliers.

Bil Goldfield, director of communications for Dole, said, “It’s rare that two iconic brands with as much passion and potential for improving the way America and the world eats can come together to make positive change. As one of the world’s foremost nutrition leaders, Dole is excited to partner with Disney to take both companies’ commitment to health and wellness to the next level. Together, we can do even more to deliver fun, educational and nutritional information around the power of produce to individuals and families across North America.”

The most recent launch by the partnership is a line supporting the launch of Cars 3. It is character-inspired single-serve fruit snack packs of bananas, berries or pineapples.