Attract and Instruct

December 19, 2013

Sure, what’s on the inside is what counts most.

But what’s on the outside can draw them in.

Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at the Mintel Group global market research firm, brought that message and more to an audience at United Fresh 2013. Suggesting that upgrades in packaging have the power to reinvigorate existing brands and help new products stand out, she shared tips based on other food industries and described how they translate to fresh-cut produce.

With new product introductions in the United States numbering at around 40,000 annually, she said, packaging can cut through the clutter.

Her takeaway message for fresh-cut produce companies? In a large, growing and increasingly competitive market, packaging matters.

Show & Tell

Taking existing products and giving them a new package can be like putting a new coat of paint on an old house: it makes it seem fresh and new. Likewise, taking an old standard and presenting it in a new way can generate buzz – and sales.

With consumers increasingly seeking healthy foods that are easy and quick to prepare or use immediately, packages should include information that helps communicate those things. Dornblaser said companies that have adopted the HarvestMark program, which enables shoppers to scan a QR code with their mobile phones and get immediate information about the produce they are looking at buying, are smart.

“It’s giving consumers the information they need so they can make a decision (in the grocery aisle),” she said.

Packaging that outlines how to use the product is also a good idea.

“Younger consumers especially do not often have extensive skills when it comes to cooking,” Dornblaser said.

For example, squash has been surfacing more and more in fresh-cut form. It’s a great idea, she said, but many consumers might not know what to do with it. Recipes and instructions on the package not only help the user, but in the end sell the squash.

“There’s so much opportunity to help the consumer learn how to use these kinds of products,” she said.

Dornblaser cited the example of the Chinese long beans she sees in a store where she shops that has a large core of Asian customers.

“I look at those and wish there was something to help me right now while I’m standing in the store to work out what I could do with this, given that product is not in my heritage,” she said. “I think there’s so much opportunity for companies to help consumers learn what some of these new products are and how to use them.”

Putting the Chinese beans in a package designed to serve four and including preparation instructions would make all the difference, she said – “just something simple to make it easy for consumers.”

Other tips? Showcase the contents, and make it easy to use (include a fork for on-the-go consumption if that’s the intended use of the product, for example).

Across the Pond

American fresh-cut processors and marketers can also take a cue from their European counterparts.

“Some of the really interesting things are coming from outside the U.S.,” she said. “For example, there is a company in France that sells a six-pack of apples, but with the six-pack, for kids, is a sheet of stickers that has eyes and faces that they can put on the apples. And the stickers are edible.

“The kids literally play with their food, then eat it.”

Dornblaser described a blend of Roma tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, onions, garlic and thyme with a packet of sauce that’s sold in the produce section of a store in the Netherlands. Serving four, it gets mixed with cooked pasta to create an instant meal.

“What’s interesting about this one is it’s from a retailer, so it’s private label,” she said, noting that it is not uncommon in the United Kingdom, either, where there are maybe a half dozen major supermarket retailers. “If you look at new product intros, over half in the U.K. are private label.

“They’re able to manufacture their own products and ship them easily from distribution points to the stores.”

Convenience Matters

Consumers are not one size fits all – and fresh-cut products shouldn’t be, either.

“It’s not just smaller packages versus larger packages, though that’s extremely important,” she said.

Offering packages that make it easy to get a meal on the table is essential. She cited fresh washed and cut green beans that come in a bag that can go directly to the microwave and then to the table. Ditto shredded fresh kale and collard greens that came with bacon-butter flavor packets.

“These are things that make it easier for consumers,” she said.

The Wegmans supermarket chain offers a line called, “Food You Feel Good About.” The program’s bright yellow banner logo goes on products that would meet the criteria of a natural lifestyle, as in no trans fats, preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup and the like.

“One of the products in this line is cleaned and cut potato-kale soup vegetables,” Dornblaser said. “It comes with all the ingredients, and a recipe of how to make the soup.”

Packaging itself should not create obstacles for consumers.

“With produce, it’s not so much how easy it is to open that bag of washed salad greens, but how to close it again,” she said.

Older consumers may struggle with zipper closures. And if they can’t seal a package, shelf life suffers, she said.

“In terms of fresh cut, the industry has a lot of opportunity to do a lot of things,” she said. “That’s one way of saying there’s an awful lot of room for further innovation in packaging.”

Kathy Gibbons, contributing writer

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