ORLANDO, Fla. -- Precut fresh produce is threatening to topple frozen vegetables from the pedestal of offering unique convenience appeal.
In defense, frozens marketers have got to move now to build themselves a new marketing foundation, based on their vegetables' nutritional benefits.
So said Kelly Brown, vice president of marketing at Smith Frozen Foods and a member of the American Frozen Food Institute's Frozen Vegetable Council.
During a presentation here at the National Frozen Food Convention last month, Brown warned that the category could very well find itself without a leg to stand on.
"Precut threatens our claim to convenience, and consumer misperceptions concerning nutrient content do not allow us to take advantage of our position there," he said.
"As advances in technology bring about better packaging and higher quality, the business of precut produce will continue to grow," he said. "With that growth, the line between the convenience value of frozen vegetables vs. raw produce will continue to blur."
As a result, frozen vegetables appear to be losing their unique selling point in the minds of consumers, Brown said. He urged the entire frozen food industry to work together to keep consumers from gravitating toward raw, precut or canned alternatives.
One solution is to tell the nutrition story louder. He said recent research shows Americans are concerned about their diet and health, and are reading package labels to help them make their selections.
When a survey revealed 73% of consumers deem it "very important" to consider nutritional values when buying fruits and vegetables, the vegetable council commissioned a scientific study to determine how frozen green beans stacked up against fresh beans.
The study showed that "after three weeks, flash-frozen green beans retained 76% more vitamin C than their fresh counterparts," Brown said.
After getting the results of its scientific study, the council commissioned a survey that asked consumers if fresh or frozen green beans had more vitamin C. An overwhelming 76% of the respondents said fresh green beans had more. "A little misperception here perhaps," Brown said. "In a similar study commissioned this year by the council," he continued, "we singled out 500 mothers with children six to 17 years of age. We wanted to determine their nutritional knowledge of fresh, frozen and canned vegetables."
That survey found 88% of mothers considered fresh to have the best "nutritional value." Frozen was selected by just 7%, while the remaining respondents said they did not know. None chose canned.
"You would think the rising tide of increased public concern over diet and health would naturally lift the consumption of frozen vegetables. This may be marginally true; but when you consider the increase of marketing efforts of the raw produce industry, we have a true challenge on our hands," said Brown.
"If the public's perception of 'raw equals fresh' continues to go unchallenged, we are in effect giving up. If we don't tell our story of nutrition and convenience, who will?"