Industry Viewpoint: What produce shoppers are seeking
Nothing about recent history has been orderly, but the way people buy and prepare produce at home is a mixed bag.
A salad mix is actually a pretty good analogy for today’s market. On one hand, there is a blend of fresh, high-quality produce offered in a value-added and often premium format. On the other hand, there is an element of convenience, with pre-cut and pre-mixed ingredients, ripe for customization.
As people cooked and prepared meals at home much more over the past year, there was a definite balance between enthusiasm and fatigue. Consumers explored foods — including fresh produce — that they hadn’t eaten before, opening the door to new products and uses in recipes. At the same time, cooking fatigue was a real sentiment, leading to a desire for convenience. Value-added fruits and vegetables allowed people to get the freshness and flavor they wanted without the hassle of having to do all of the washing, peeling, slicing, dicing and chopping.
The recently released 2021 Power of Produce report, published by FMI—The Food Industry Association and conducted by 210 Analytics, confirms the produce category experienced growth and change fueled by consumers’ new shopping and consumption habits. According to the report, produce department sales grew 11.4 percent in 2020 to reach $69.6 billion, and people are buying more produce than they did before the pandemic. Vegetable sales were up 14.2 percent, while fresh fruit sales rose 8.9 percent in the past year.
So, what have people been making with all of these fresh fruits and vegetables?
For one thing, they are expanding their culinary horizons. The latest Power of Produce report shows than 78 percent of shoppers have changed their meal preparation, using different kinds of fruits and vegetables, adding new spices or sauces and experimenting with a range of preparation methods. Ideas and recipes are coming from family and friends, as well as recipe websites, social media sites, YouTube and cookbooks.
When it comes to specific fruits and vegetables, rockstars of the past year include cherries, up 27.6 percent, oranges, up 27.4 percent and mushrooms, up 18.9 percent.
Even as consumers have been testing out new foods and recipes and largely enjoying them, the constancy of cooking at home did take a bit of a toll. The traditional drivers of convenience — solutions for time-crunched, on-the-go lifestyles — were replaced by interest in making meal prep easier or faster. The 2021 Power of Produce report shows that 37 percent of shoppers purchased value-added products in 2020, an increase from 31 percent of the previous year. Nearly a third of shoppers believe they will buy more of such items in the coming year, underscoring the need for convenient solutions like pre-washed, pre-cut, microwave-ready or ready-to-snack produce.
Beyond providing value-added fruit and vegetables, growers/packers and retailers can reach today’s consumers in other ways. Take the opportunity to educate shoppers on how to prepare fresh cabbage, cook with okra or distinguish between different types of potatoes. Point out locally-grown products, organic and sustainably-produced options or new or unique varieties that are arriving in the department. Suggest produce-based solutions like salads, bowls and sandwich toppings for work-from-home lunches and between-class snacks. Reinforce the nutrition profile fresh produce, at a time when health and wellness remain top of mind.
FMI will be supporting the fresh foods industry every step of the way. Mark your calendars for FreshForward 2021, developed in collaboration with Deloitte and scheduled for Aug. 17 to 19 in Minneapolis. Learn more at www.FMI.org/FreshForward.