Consumers Looking for Fresh-Cut Ideas

Consumers are going to be looking for something extra special when they head to the stores to buy fresh-cut produce.

Though the industry continues to grow and introduce new product, Mona Doyle, with The Consumer Network, said she expects consumers to be looking for something even newer and more useful.

“From our stream of consumer input, I sense that the fresh-cut industry is maturing,” she said. “Instead of generating excitement and offering new experiences, fresh-cut products are beginning to be taken for granted by more people.”

More people are using them in their home. They are beginning to rely on fresh-cut salads and other products. Instead of being surprised at new offerings, consumers are expecting to find these items.

“They (fresh-cut products) are no longer the great new thing that allows us to eat healthfully without work,” Doyle said.

This change from “new kid on the block” to a product that’s expected on shelves has happened in the last year.

“I do sense a loss of excitement, which comes from the fact that they’ve (fresh-cut processors) done a good job,” Doyle said. “This may be only a breathing place, a stopping place, for the industry.”

Competition

In addition to the lack of consumer excitement, the fresh-cut industry is seeing more competition. This is not within the business, Doyle said. This competition is coming from other sectors of the food industry.

“Consumers have more options and more products that deliver the benefits that they want from fresh-cut, which is foods that are fresh, healthy, convenient and good-tasting,” she said.

Doyle points to the convenience stores. These stores have not only added fresh-cut produce to their shelves – they’ve added fresh sandwich wraps, fresh gelato and other items that attract the same buyers as fresh-cut produce.

“In that sense, fresh-cut has been so successful that it has attracted more competition for the benefits that it delivers,” Doyle said.

And consumers continue to demand those benefits of fresh, convenient and healthful. So fresh-cut produce will continue to be successful.

Though Doyle sees the sees the industry slowing down, fresh-cut is still growing – and will continue to do so. The growth may not happen as quickly in the past.

“The challenge this puts on fresh-cut marketers is they can’t rest on their laurels,” Doyle said.

Keep Them Interested

“As consumers get more and more used to products in the fresh-cut category, the way they are using them is changing,” Doyle said.

Instead of going to the store, picking up a bagged salad and putting on the dinner table, consumers are looking to use a little of their own creativity in meal planning. They want to have ready-to-use ingredients. And they want to be told how to use them.

“Not everyone is instantly creative on their own; consumers are at a place where they need ideas from fresh-cut,” Doyle said.

Fresh-cut produce offers the perfect opportunity. Consumers can buy the products, take them home and toss them in salads, soups and other dishes. Even in the salad category, some salads are more complete than others. And many of the salads would make even more exciting dishes when combined with other salads, Doyle said.

“How many consumers would respond to the suggestion that they do that? They want to go beyond the salads, and I think they are ready to go beyond the salad,” she said.

There are ways to get these ideas out to consumers. One idea, already employed by some fresh-cut companies, is to use on-package recipes. The consumer can pick up the ingredients right there in the store and have a ready-to-cook meal before they even get home. Cross-merchandising also comes in handy. Retailers could offer dried fruits and nuts near salads. They could offer stir-fry suggestions with different fresh-cut vegetables near each other. And during holiday seasons, why not partner chopped celery with other stuffing ingredients?

“It seems to me that usage is growing very slowly, and people are sort of waiting to be told what to do,” Doyle said. “There’s an opportunity for sellers to do that.”

Cut Fruit

Another area with growth potential is that of fresh-cut fruit. The category is continuing to spread and include more offerings. But there are some things holding the category back.

So far, Doyle said, fresh-cut fruit is being marketed for the grab-and-go affluent shopper.

“I think the market is bigger than that,” she said.

Cut fruit, she suggested, makes good topping for a cake. Marketers could offer serving suggestions with the fruit that include a pre-baked pound cake and a dollop of whipped cream.

Cross merchandising with other dessert-category companies could provide a large window of growth for fresh-cut fruit.

Next Steps

The industry has already proven it can grow a customer base and keep consumers coming back. And each day, more and more innovative products are introduced to the marketplace.

But usage still needs to grow, Doyle said.

“Expanding use is the next step that is really important to maintain growth,” she said. “I think there are a lot of creative ways to do this.”


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