‘Tis The Season For Decking the Aisles With Produce — What Will Be That New Holiday Vegetarian Option?

‘Tis The Season For Decking the Aisles With Produce

by Rick Stein, Vice President, Fresh Foods, Food Marketing Institute

December 2019 – Let’s talk turkey: the side show at Thanksgiving is just as big as the bird on the platter. Although turkey, roasts and other cuts of protein are at the center of most holiday dinners, these weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day are among the best times of the year for produce sales.

Of course, growers, grocers and foodservice operators do well with in-season produce in the summertime, but the holidays present a wealth of opportunities even as fields go dormant and freezing temperatures set in across much of the United States.

For example, leading up to a holiday and right after it, people often eat lighter and consume more fruits and vegetables. I tend to think of it as my holiday meal “buffer” — I eat a lot more salads in the run-up to and aftermath of Thanksgiving or Christmas parties, because I know I will be overindulging during those occasions.

This mindset isn’t unusual, and can actually be a point of promotion for purveyors who can capitalize on the dual health-consciousness and extravagance. You don’t have to wait until the diet frenzy of the New Year to emphasize fresh, healthy meals and snacks that balance heavier fare that’s often consumed this time of year. For on-the-go consumers, offering things like detoxifying smoothies or power bowls can be a path to permissible indulgence.

Another opportunity to move more produce from November through New Year’s is to highlight side dishes based on produce, including bulk fresh produce, packaged fresh produce, frozen produce and canned and jarred produce. All of those forms of produce are on people’s shopping lists during the holidays. What’s Thanksgiving without cranberries and green bean casserole? Indeed, these are two huge months for many types of produce, including yams, cranberries, beans, squash, Brussels sprouts and other veggies used in side dishes.

In addition to traditional sides served alongside proteins, many favorite starters and appetizers prominently feature produce, from relish trays teeming with celery, carrots, beets and olives to dips paired with crunchy veggies. That’s another reason why produce sales typically spike during the holidays.

Beyond classic side dishes and appetizers served for Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas and other winter holidays, produce businesses can share other ideas for using produce for gatherings and get-togethers. With the 2019 FMI Power of Produce report showing that 97 percent of shoppers are trying to eat more fresh produce, you can share suggestions and recipes for dishes that complement or supplement beloved sides like green bean casserole, corn pudding and fruit-studded gelatin salad. Someone in the family can bring the favorite side, but someone else can be assigned to bring another plant-based side dish. This also will appeal to guests who are trying to eat more plant-based foods or who are following vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian diets.

Speaking of plant-based eating, animal proteins aren’t necessarily at the center of all holiday meals and parties. The Power of Produce shows 73% of shoppers see vegetable protein as an occasional meal alternative and entrees like stuffed squash, roast cauliflower, vegetable pot pie or, yes, Tofurky can be the star of the holiday show.

Don’t forget the gift-giving opportunities with fresh produce during the holiday season. Fruit baskets, boxes and crates are longstanding seasonal gifts, and can be promoted and merchandised as such. A retailer can further differentiate its offerings with custom produce gifts or DIY gift basket displays. In today’s e-commerce world, sending produce as a gift can be a click away, and an additional opportunity to sell more fruits and vegetables during late fall and early winter.

Food gifts are yet another way to encourage shoppers to think about produce when they’re making a list and checking it twice. Making jams and jellies for neighbors, friends, colleagues and families is one way to share the spirit of the season. So is sending a jar of homemade ketchup or giardiniera, or whipping up a plate of chocolate-dipped orange slices as a hostess gift.

For these and other reasons, produce can really shine during this festive season. Deck the halls of a store, department or market to let customers know where they can find ingredients and information, and how they can make spirits bright with a variety of produce items.

Wishing you a bountiful season and a 2020 that’s ripe with possibilities. After all, eating healthy will be fresh on people’s minds after January 1.

Rick Stein is vice president, fresh foods, for the Food Marketing Institute (FMI). Follow him @Ricks_FreshFood. Visit www. FMI.org/FreshFoods, www.FMI.org/Store.


What Will Be That New Holiday Vegetarian Option?

by Jim Prevor, Editor-in-Chief, Produce Business

This also explains why holiday meals are so important to certain food products. There are people who never buy a turkey, not once during 364 days of the year, but have consistently bought a turkey for Thanksgiving once every single year for decades.Sometimes the market at retail bifurcates depending on whether a product is essential or discretionary. That is why supermarkets and independent florists both sell flowers even though they are in very different businesses. If you are having a wedding or need to send flowers to a funeral, these are perceived as necessities. If you are shopping in the supermarket and see a pretty bouquet, you may bring it home as an impulse purchase.

Sweet potatoes prepared with maple syrup and little marshmallows on top? Once a year. Green bean casserole. Check. It is like a religion, and people are intent on observing the ritual as they were taught by their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers.

As often happens, these “necessities” wind up being used as powerful draws, so retailers will sell turkeys as a loss leaders to get people into the store or even give away free turkeys in exchange for purchasing some minimum amount of groceries.

Of course, the world does change… Although Grandma might never have thought of making a specifically pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan entrées, nowadays such an option might become a necessity. So, certainly, there is an opportunity for the produce industry and retailers to collaborate and establish the traditions of tomorrow.

The shrewd marketers of produce may well be establishing that the Thanksgivings of tomorrow must include a turkey, a ham, a brisket and a cauliflower steak. What will be that new vegetarian option is a position well worth fighting for.

Holiday merchandising at retail may be becoming more important because people are cooking less often. Eddie Yon, author of Superconsumers, wrote a piece for the Harvard Business Review website, titled, The Grocery Industry Confronts a New Problem: Only 10% of Americans Love Cooking. In that piece he debunks a lot of mythology. For example, many people point to love for The Food Channel as evidence that people love cooking. But Yon dissents:

Beyond the numbers, it also suggests that our fondness for Food TV has inspired us to watch more Food TV, and to want to eat more, but hasn’t increased our desire to cook. In part, Food TV has raised our standards to discouragingly high levels: How many of us really feel confident in our cooking skills after watching an Iron Chef? (My high school chemistry teacher quit the cello in college after playing a semester next to Yo-Yo Ma.) This may be one reason why consumers now spend more on food in restaurants than on groceries. Despite all the buzz about the growth of pre-prepped meal kits like Blue Apron, or the promise of Whole Foods under Amazon’s management, cooking itself is on a long, slow, steady decline.

Indeed, Yon questions the long term viability of any industry whose end point is cooking:

I’ve come to think of cooking as being similar to sewing. As recently as the early 20th century, many people sewed their own clothing. Today the vast majority of Americans buy clothing made by someone else; the tiny minority who still buy fabric and raw materials do it mainly as a hobby. If that’s the kind of shift coming to the food industry, change leaders and corporate strategists will have their hands full.

Whatever the long term outlook for cooking, right now — even with better catering and order-in and delivery options — many people think cooking holiday meals is an important part of the experience. Gathering the family, cooking not just a green bean casserole, but one made up with Grandma’s recipe and one involving the kids helping in the kitchen, makes Thanksgiving a must-cook day.

It wasn’t too long ago when my grandmother’s “recipe” for green bean casserole incorporated Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup and French’s Crispy Fried Onions on top. This recipe was originally developed by Campbell’s for an Associated Press feature in 1955 demonstrating the power of marketing. What will be the next “recipe” to stand the test of time, and will it incorporate a fresh produce item?

Hitchhiking on these holidays is an important opportunity to sell more now and to ingrain a product or brand in a tradition that will bring sales for generations to come.