One only has to look around produce departments to notice the growing popularity of value-added produce. Sliced apple packs and bagged salads don’t go lonely in coolers with items like diced shallots, ready-to-microwave broccoli, chopped squash and trimmed leeks to keep them company.
Every day, coolers feature more varieties of salads and fresh-cut fruit and vegetables.
“On value-added fruit, the unique items per store per week increased 6.4% last year, that’s about double the average for the total produce department,” said Steve Lutz, executive vice president of the Perishables Group, a division of Nielsen. “And value-added veg increased at 3.5%, which is just slightly above the average for total produce.”
Retailers have been expanding their value-added products for good reason.
While customers have been moving away from traditional produce in the past year due to price increases, that is not the case with value-added fruit and vegetables, Lutz said.
“They’ve increased in dollars, but they also increased in volume as well,” Lutz said.
Value-added fruit saw 4.6% growth in volume sales versus a year ago, while value-added vegetables had a 7.5% volume increase, according to the Perishables Group data that tracks produce that has been cut, mixed or plattered, not including packaged salad.
The value-added category has been very strong for Associated Food Stores, Salt Lake City, according to Produce Category Manager Bob Newton.
“The organic side is definitely where we’re seeing a lot of double-digit increases in cut veg [and] salad ... here at Associated,” Newton told SN.
The economic recovery has also been a factor in the renewed growth in value-added.
“We saw the growth rate come off of everything, but convenience items suffered during the recession as price became the bigger driver, and as we’ve come out of the recession we’ve seen consumers shift back toward their more traditional purchase habits,” Lutz said.
Moore, Okla.-based GFF Foods hasn’t had the same luck with organic value-added products as Associated has, but certain areas of value-added have had strong performance.
“My area just doesn’t care much for organics. Unless you get [the price] down so cheap they’ll buy it. Organics in our area just isn’t a big seller,” David Dozier, produce manager and co-owner of GFF Foods.
While small packages of cut celery and carrots aren’t popular with GFF Foods’ customers, customers with families do purchase vegetable trays. During Oklahoma State University and University of Oklahoma football games, Dozier said he usually sells twice as many veggie trays as usual.
Fresh-cut fruit and packaged salads are big sellers as well. Dozier approximated sales were up 5% to 10% in cut fruit compared with last year. Elderly customers buy small packs of cut fruit for the convenience, and customers with families buy the larger containers, he said.
“I usually hear [customers with families] say it’s also convenient for them that husband and wife both work and they don’t want their children to eat candy and junk food,” Dozier said. “That if they have that in the ice box ready for them, they’ll just go for that instead of the junk food.”
Sales of packaged salads have been stellar at GFF Foods. Dozier approximates sales are up 35% to 40% from last year.
“We offer a lot more different varieties. It used to [be] all you could sell was the packaged salad mix. Now there’s a lot of demand for the leafy Romaines and the Italian blend and the American blend.”