DALLAS (FNS) -- Produce consumers want fruit and vegetables with more flavor, more conveniently sliced and diced, and labeled with recipe suggestions, a panel of industry experts said during a marketing seminar at the convention of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association here.
Mino Athanassiadis, an executive at Somas Creek Farms in California, said growers should focus more on the flavor of vegetables and fruits, which a survey indicates is important to 84% of consumers, followed by freshness at 81%. Instead, he tends to find that producers emphasize factors such as shelf life and yield. "Flavor is an afterthought," Athanassiadis said.
He said Somas Farms has been successful using this strategy selling carrots that are half the size of normal carrots for twice the price because they are more flavorful, not like biting into cardboard. He said consumers will respond to taste in the long run even if the products are less attractive. For example, consumers will buy less-attractive, but tastier apples, and bypass the beautiful Red Delicious.
Another panelist, Max Nisson, vice president of sales and marketing for Freshpoint Inc., Atlanta, a large company in the food-service industry, predicted supermarket produce departments would expand in the future, not because more exotic items are added, but because more conveniently prepared fruit and vegetables will be offered. He said busy consumers will continue to buy more value-added products, such as cleaned and cut lettuce and diced and shredded vegetables.
Five years ago, few stores were selling many sliced, diced and chopped vegetables, but now supermarkets are moving toward selling specially cut vegetables for specific recipes, say, diagonally sliced onions to use for beef or chicken fajitas.
The last panelist, Tony Merola, an executive with Amex Distributing Co., Tubac, Ariz., and a chef, said: "People do not want to cook at home. They want convenient food." Many consumers also want labeling of more exotic products as well as recipe suggestions, he said. "Who would eat spaghetti squash if it wasn't labeled?" Merola asked. For example, many people don't know what a yucca root is or how to prepare it, and most can't identify a mango.
Panelists were not as convinced that organic produce would be as large a trend as conveniently prepared fresh fruit and vegetables. "It is a fad that will become a trend if they become affordable," Nisson said.