Those little packages of vegetables -- the precut or value-added salad mixes -- started out quietly in Europe several years ago, and in recent years have been establishing themselves more and more in American supermarkets.
By now, there can be little doubt that precut is winning an important place in the scheme of things at supermarket produce departments.
But how important a place will precut eventually occupy and what are some of the challenges involved in making sure the category reaches its full potential?
To find out answers to these and other questions about precut, a team of SN editors and reporters invited a number of produce experts, most drawn from retailing venues, to sit down together and hash out strategies for the future of the category.
An extensive roundtable discussion ensued, results of which are referenced off the front page of this issue and start on Page 42.
Here's a brief look at some of what participants said on various key topics concerning precut vegetables:
What it is to customers: "The value of a precut vegetable is saving the customer's time of not having to peel it, cut it up and so on," said Harold Alston Jr., Stop & Shop Cos. "We have to get to that point if we are going to offer 100% convenience."
Freshness retention: "I think the challenge we face is having the right equipment to take care of that product," said Vince Terry, Harp's Food Stores. "Keep coolers at 38 degrees," said Larry Chance, Hy-Vee Food Stores. "I think that's the retailer's obligation."
"If your truck runs at 50 degrees, and ours do, that scares me a lot," said Roger Schroeder, Hughes Family Markets. "How do you identify out-of-temperature product?"
Product display life: "Look at some of the code life; in some cases 18 to 21 days," said Terry. "How far can they push that envelope?"
"I don't care what the shelf life is as long as I can sell it before it is too late," said Alston. "I would rather have shorter shelf life."
Product innovations: "I think there is some opportunity with unique completes like Caesar salad, where customers probably don't have the dressing mix," said Schroeder. "And with Waldorf salad."
"I'm waiting for fruit to come along next," said Alston. "It's just unlimited. And there is need for a potato product."
Sales and price growth: "We have experienced big increases of 200% to 300%," said Schroeder. "But that's starting to round off a little bit." "We could get $7 a pound for mesculin salad. In some stores we do, in others we don't try," said Alston. "I'm only going to give so much space to precuts; I'm still in the bulk produce business," said Schroeder.
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