Convenient, portable, good for you and sweet: Fresh-cut fruits satisfy consumer demand for healthful snacks that can be eaten on the go. But a new report from the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) finds that healthy and fresh can’t drive this category alone. Fun is a key ingredient of success.
“Turning to fruits and vegetables first and foremost for their health benefits, our audience compartmentalizes produce into the wellness category—traditionally humdrum and prioritizing function over fun,” says the report Drivers and Barriers for Produce Consumption: An Occasion-Based Study, from Newark, Del.-based PMA.
“Despite these first impressions, fruits and vegetables both possess exciting attributes at their core—eye-catching colors, natural sweetness, visceral sensations of crunch and juiciness—that can break free of health foods’ one-dimensionality and offer eaters dynamic, cool and personally relevant choices,” the report says.
The PMA consumer insights report, with research fielded by Now What in Brooklyn, N.Y., recommends that grocers think outside the box when it comes to presentation. Engaging shoppers with fruit kabobs, smoothie popsicles and healthy bowls are all ways to show consumers how to have fun with fruit.
At San Bernardino, Calif.-based Stater Bros. Markets, fresh-cut fruit is definitely dynamic, cool and relevant, with some locations featuring fresh-cut fruit service stations, where staff can be seen cutting colorful fruit for easy consumption. The wall above the cut-fruit station entices shoppers with words such as “sweet,” “picked to perfection,” “juicy” and “prepared fresh.”
The PMA report also looked at the top drivers of why people eat fruit and the chief challenges to consumption, and both bode well for fresh-cut fruit and for Stater Bros.’ fresh-cut fruit station.
People eat fruit because it’s sweet, juicy, crisp, portable, filling, satisfying, shareable and good for you, the PMA report says. Barriers to consumption include fruit that needs prep work, plus fruit that’s too messy to eat and has inedible parts that need to be thrown away—“creating an inconvenience, especially when on the go.”
To increase sales of cut fruit, PMA further recommends offering precut fruit snack packs with a side of dip and adding precut fruits to salad bars to make fruit more accessible to the lunch crowd.
And to capture the younger consumers who tend to snack more throughout the day, consider featuring exotic, nontraditional fruits such as lychee or passion fruit; offer portion sizes geared towards one-person households, and feature ready-to-eat snack options to be eaten on the go or throughout the day.
Del Monte Fresh Produce in Coral Gables, Fla., has its finger on the pulse of cut-fruit trends. “We are focusing on opportunities to meet consumer demand for fresh-cut exotic fruits and other innovative fresh-cut offerings,” says Dionysios Christou, VP of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce. “As consumers develop more sophisticated tastes, and as trends and interest in new tropical fruits continue to grow, varieties such as mango, pineapple, papaya and kiwi are essential to the produce department.”
Del Monte Fresh has also expanded its line to include more fresh-cut items featuring dips and dressings to give consumers more options when looking for healthy, flavorful snacks.
“When it comes to fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, we continuously work to develop innovative packaging with consumer trends in mind,” Christou says. “For example, we recently introduced film seal technology for select fresh-cut lines to extend shelf life, enhance product quality and deliver an improved consumer experience.”
Protein- and Plant-Based Snacking
America’s healthier snack habits also position cut fruit for growth. The market researchers at Mintel point to SPINS data, which indicates that while the $40 billion conventional snacking market declined 2% annually over the past three years, “health and wellness” snacking grew 6% annually, driven by growth from fresh snacking, which grew 8% annually.
The growth in the fresh snacking category is supported by consumer trends in protein- and plant-based foods, Mintel says in its report Fresh Snacking Is on the Rise. Half of U.S. consumers are seeking more protein in their diets, the company says.
The most recent product launch from Reichel Foods Inc., Rochester, Minn., speaks to the demand for portable cut fruit and protein. Pro2Snax Meals to the Max offer various combinations of cut fruit, eggs, cheese, nuts and more.
“These exciting new products are protein-packed meal replacements made up of fresh produce and healthy proteins,” says Greg Wilson, VP of sales and marketing. “As snack trends continue to rise, more consumers are snacking their way throughout the day. These new items are targeted toward consumers that are looking for a healthy and convenient protein-packed meal.”
Fruit on the Go
As the country’s appetite for snackable and portable produce swells, new product innovations are critical to continued success.
“Consumers are eating up this ‘on-the-go’ snacking subcategory, to the tune of U.S. $1.1 billion,” Nielsen says in its report Booming Snack Sales Highlight a Growth Opportunity in Emerging Markets.
Photograph courtesy of Naturipe
Naturipe Farms of Salinas, Calif. is going after the on-the-go market with its Naturipe Snacks fresh fruit cups that include several flavor combinations of blueberries, grapes and apples. “Our fruit cups are packed in a unique cup design with a built-in spork and 5 ounces of fresh fruit,” says Steven Ware, VP of value-added fresh. “Heat-sealed for plastic reduction and a secure closure, these cups are ideal for convenience stores, grab-and go departments and catering operations.”
Mango and Melon Mania
“Data suggests that the fresh-cut fruit category continues to grow at a fast pace, and currently highlights fresh-cut melon as the most popular segment,” says Christou of Del Monte, whose No. 1 seller in the fresh-cut category is its signature Gold Extra Sweet Pineapple. However, its fresh-cut watermelon and mango are also strong sellers for the produce brand.
The popularity of these fruits in the fresh-cut category is no doubt due to the preparation time involved with pineapple, melons and mango. “Consumers view fresh-cut items as a time-saving solution to their fast-paced lifestyles,” Christou says. “The ability to enjoy Del Monte fresh fruits without the hassle of cutting and cleaning motivates fresh-cut purchases.”
“From what we can see, fresh-cut mangos continue to trend upwards,” says Angela Serna of the National Mango Board in Orlando, Fla.
Fresh-cut mangos increased 16.2% in weekly sales dollars per store in 2017, according to Nielsen FreshFacts. Mangos remained the No. 6 fresh-cut fruit behind mixed fruit, pineapple, watermelon, apples and cantaloupe.
Fresh-Cut Fruit Growth Up, But Slowing
According to Chicago-based IRI Fresh, while total fresh-cut fruit is up 38% since 2013, growth has slowed in recent years. For the 52 weeks ending Dec. 2, 2018, sales of fresh-cut fruit were up only 1.2% vs. the previous year.
Regarding the top five fresh-cut fruits adding the most dollars to the category since 2013, IRI finds that berries are No. 1, with 82% in dollar sales growth.
When it comes to increasing sales of fresh-cut fruit, Greg Wilson of Reichel Foods advises grocers to think of their youngest shoppers. “Merchandising fresh-cut products low in the set helps increase sales because they are more visible to children,” he says. “Also, merchandise standing up so the consumers can see what is in the package.”
Reichel Foods’ best-selling line is its Dippin’ Stix brand of kid-friendly cut fruit with dips, such as apples and caramel.