Fresh-Cut Produce In The U.S.A.

Fresh-cut produce continues on an upward trend across the United States. There are a number of motivations behind this growth, only one of which is people’s desire to eat more healthful and nutritious items. While the nation as a whole has become more health-conscious, consumers are busier than ever, and just as they are starved for healthful choices, they are equally starved for the time needed to make positive food choices. All of these occurrences come together to lead consumers toward fresh-cut produce, as it fulfills both the health and convenience needs of today’s shoppers.

Additionally, there are a number of industry trends that are influencing the performance of fresh-cut produce. Despite the sluggish economy, consumers are still purchasing convenience items, such as bagged lettuce or fresh-cut fruit and vegetables. After all, many people are spending increased time at home and eating more home-cooked meals. Thus, discretionary funds that were once used to eat out can now be added to the grocery fund. Either way, 58 percent of consumers say they are purchasing about the same or more convenience produce items than last year.

Growth Motivators

Purchases are often influenced by value, not just price. Consumers might find themselves asking, “How much time will this bagged lettuce save me?” Each consumer defines “value” by his or her own unique priorities. To some consumers, healthfulness ranks highest, while others are focusing on sustainability and convenience factors. Surprisingly, price, shelf-life, and depth-of-discount are lower motivators than healthfulness, the environment, premium quality and convenience.

Other factors weigh in on consumers’ motivation to purchase fresh-cuts. Publicity about The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign are giving fresh produce a higher priority in the national debate to reduce childhood obesity.

Pharmacies, fast food outlets, and even video stores are getting in on the fresh-cut action, offering healthful fresh-cut produce choices to their shoppers. What’s more, when retailers add fresh-cuts to their inventory, it boosts consumers’ impressions of the store. In one recent study, half of more than 500 households indicated that their impressions of both Wal-Mart and Target are more positive as a direct result of expanded grocery inventories in many of their “super” stores. Even convenience stores are investing in fresh foods.

Who Is The Fresh-Cut Produce Consumer?

Fresh-cut consumers are affluent and suburban. That said, fresh-cut vegetables also appeal to upscale urban consumers. Households with children, large households, college-educated and primarily Caucasians are attracted to fresh-cuts. The category also appeals to Asian consumers.

Fresh-cut consumers are a valuable asset to retailers. A loyalty card analysis of 200,000 households that shopped at East and West Coast retailers revealed that when there was no prepared produce in a market basket, the ring averaged $40.64. However, when prepared fruit and vegetables were included, the ring more than doubled, at an average of $98.73 and $103.56, respectively.

Fresh-Cut Performance At Traditional Supermarkets

Fresh-cut produce is making a comeback. According to FreshFacts® Data gleaned from approximately 13,000 stores nationwide, since 2005, sales of prepared vegetables have increased 34.8 percent, while sales of prepared fruit have increased 23.3 percent.

Moreover, prepared vegetable bags and prepared fruit clamshells are the most popular packaging types, garnering 44.7 percent (an increase of 1.5 percent) and 67.6 percent (an increase of 2.8 percent) of respective dollar shares in the past year.

All but one of the top fresh-cut fruit types grew in dollar sales over the past year. Fresh-cut fruit grew 7.3 percent, driven by watermelon (+10.8 percent), pineapple (+10.3 percent), cantaloupe (+6.4 percent), mixed fruit (+5.3 percent) and apples (+3 percent).

The Future Of Fresh-Cut

With such impressive growth in the fresh-cut category, the future is bright, and a number of new innovations — ranging from shelf-life-enhancing treatments to convenience packaging to new avenues of marketing — are coming down the pipeline.

Understanding consumer demand is key to value-added produce profits, and new opportunities for increasing value-added sales are up for the taking.