TORONTO -- Value-added salads and vegetables have taken American supermarkets by storm, but in Canada the attitude toward them is cooler.
Scratch cooking is still a cherished part of the culture north of the U.S. border, and value-added has not swept through supermarket produce departments in Canada, according to several retailers here who opened their doors to the Produce Marketing Association's annual retail operations tour.
The tour visited stores in this market operated by Loblaw's, A&P, Highland Farms, Nor Park Food City, Knob Hill Farms and Pusateri's. (The tour also made stops at stores in Rochester and Buffalo, N.Y.)
Canadians are not quite the slaves to convenience that Americans are, said one local retailer.
"Canadians still tend to make meals from scratch, and are willing to peel, grate and cut fruits and vegetables," said Gordon Love, manager of produce purchasing for G.A. Love Foods, Burlington, Ontario, a third-generation wholesaler with six corporately owned stores.
"One observation I personally believe is that to the American consumer, convenience is more important," he said. "My experience is that the growth of value-added in the United States is far surpassing that of Canada.
"We've dabbled a little bit in the value-added salads, but [from] what I see happening in the States, you guys are way ahead of us," Love said, addressing an audience primarily of American growers and shippers.
"The packaged salads are not
selling," said John Coppa, produce buyer for Highland Farms, a well-regarded Toronto retailer, in an interview with SN. He said he has carried value-added salads, but customers seemed turned off by the plastic packaging higher prices. Indeed, packaged salads were not apparent anywhere in his produce department.
Other retailers said they have done fairly well with packaged salads, although they still do not expect the explosive growth for the category which has been projected in America.
Bill Binder, senior vice president of perishables for Loblaw Cos., based here, said value-added salads are selling well for his stores.
The Loblaw's unit visited on the tour had already devoted space to a handful of different salad mixes, besides the space taken by pre-packaged vegetables. However, he projected only limited expansion for the category, and also said the market will not support all the new products that are being launched.
Binder also said he has heard just about enough of the category. "Don't talk to me about value-added," he warned, with a laugh.
"The value-added is selling well," said Neil MecClennan, assistant manager of North Park Food City, which is operated by Etobicoke, Ontario-based Oshawa Group.
The North Park Food City store merchandised prepared salads and vegetables near the front of the department.
The store offered about 13 different varieties of pre-packaged vegetable mixes and salads, including several American-produced brand names. The week SN visited, a Canadian Caesar salad was featured in a produce ad.
"In this area, there are two-income families, with several kids," he said, adding that his family purchases the salads. "With the salads, there is no waste. You buy what you need."
Love of G.A. Love Foods said convenience is becoming more of a factor in produce purchases, especially for working women. He cited the 1991 Canadian census, which found that over 55% of the women over 15 years of age are in the labor force, an increase of over 10% over the last 10 years. And eighty-two percent of all supermarket shoppers are women, he added.
Value-added products have contributed to the increased variety of items available in Canadian produce department, Love said. An increasingly cosmopolitan and diverse population has also boosted the demand for greater variety of produce.
"At retail, there are over 300 different choices of fresh fruits and vegetables," he said. "This number has increased dramatically over the last five years, because of the wider array of specialty produce, and the variety offered on the fresh cut items."
Specialty produce has become a big player, due in part to the increased traveling done by Canadians, and a growing ethnic population.
"In Canada, there's been a major shift in the ethnic population base," he said. "For instance, the Chinese population in Toronto has increased 83.5% from 1986 through 1991, and the South Asian population is up 79% over that same period."
"Also, Canadians are eating out more and traveling abroad, especially to the south in the winter. For these reasons, Canadians are trying new fruits and vegetables and wanting to buy them at the retail outlets," Love said.