Baby carrots are taking root in supermarket produce departments as health-conscious shoppers try to wean themselves from high-fat salty snacks.
They're also being snapped up by time-pressed consumers who are willing to pay more for convenience. These packaged carrots, which come peeled, washed, and cut into bite-sized pieces, typically cost double the price of commodity carrots. And according to retailers polled by SN, sales of commodity carrots have not been affected by the value-added newcomers to the category. The carrots in question are created from full-sized carrots that are run through a tumbler and whittled
to a stub and peeled. While these make up the bulk of sales in the category, true baby carrots, grown to be tiny, are starting to grab sales, retailers said.
As produce operators become more and more familiar with healthy snack foods, the differences in quality of carrots begins to emerge, they say. Where they were once thrilled to offer consumers the packaged whole peeled baby carrots, some retailers now prefer the true baby carrot.
"We've been carrying the Sweet Petite, a true baby carrot, for about three or four months and the sales have been outstanding," said Vince Terry, produce director for Harp's Food Stores, Springdale, Ark. "We can't keep them in stock."
The true baby carrots are packaged in a 6-ounce bag, compared with the 1-pound and 2-pound bags of whole peeled baby carrots, Terry said.
"The baby carrots, whether true babies or whole peeled, are no competition to the cello-wrapped," Terry said. "They are incremental sales."
Terry added that the traditional, cellophane-wrapped carrots remain his top mover in the carrot category.
Baby carrots can be stocked throughout the produce department, and are often placed in three areas in Harp's stores, depending on the time of year, Terry said.
Terry has used the true baby carrots in his advertising only once since introducing them. "We advertised them once and we can't keep them in stock," he said. "They are delicious, nice and clean. Once they try them, they buy them more and more."
Jim Corby, produce director for Abco Markets, Phoenix, said the market for baby carrots has grown significantly in the past few years, and shows no sign of slacking off.
"It's grown so much in the past few years I imagine it has to be taking something away from the cello-wrapped sales. But if it is, it's very subtle."
Corby said he stocks 1-pound and 2-pound bags of baby carrots. While the 1-pound bags sell somewhat better, they both sell well.
Like Terry, Corby said he displays carrots throughout his department. Often used as a color break, carrots are merchandised as salad items, cooking vegetables and in value-added sections.
Corby said he generally doesn't place his baby carrots next to regular cellophane-wrapped carrots, although when they were first introduced they were often placed there to alert consumers to the availability.
"We've just seen phenomenal growth in the past year or two, and we continue to see an increase in sales. This item is so easy for snacks or lunch boxes."
Scott Streeper, produce director for Scolari's Warehouse Markets, Sparks, Nev., said the second-best carrot product in his produce department is the 1-pound bag of baby peeled carrots.
"Within our chain, the bulk case of clip top is the best seller. But No. 2 is the 1-pound bag of baby peeled carrots," he said.
Streeper said he carries 1-pound, 2-pound and 5-pound bags of regular carrots, 50-pound boxes of bulk clip tops, and 1-pound and 2-pound bags of baby peeled carrots.
On a recent buying day, stores ordered 15 cases of 1-pound cellophane-wrapped carrots, 65 cases of clip tops, 27 cases of 2-pound baby peeled carrots, 15 cases of 5-pound cellophane-wrapped carrots, 46 cases of 1-pound baby peeled, and 30 cases of the 2-pound cellophane-wrapped, Streeper said.
Like the other retailers, Streeper said he uses carrots throughout the department. Babies are available in the value-added section, while clip tops may be in bulk vegetable sections or in the salad section.
"The baby peeled are in the value-added section, which has grown at a tremendous rate. Now there are a variety of manufacturers producing them."
Streeper said he uses the whole peeled carrots in his advertising, especially during times of the year when customers might be entertaining.
"During the Super Bowl, or the World Series, I'll advertise them for use on party trays and for dips."
Not all retailers interviewed have had success with the true baby carrots. Tom Osborne, produce director for Thrifty Food Stores, Burlington, Wash., said he tried selling them and they didn't do well. However, the whole peeled carrots cut down to baby size are growing even faster than value-added salad mixes, he said.
Osborne is the only retailer contacted by SN who is selling whole peeled baby carrots in bulk. He currently offers 1-pound and 2-pound bags, and purchases 5-pound bags to use for the bulk offerings. The 5-pound bags are also available on the rack. The bulk carrots retail at about $1.99 a pound retail, he said.
As with other retailers, Osborne displays carrots throughout his departments. The 5-pound cellophane bags are available in the cooking vegetable section, with 2-pound bags with raw vegetables and clip-top carrots in the salad section. The 2-pound babies are at the end of the salad section, with the 5-pound babies placed between the raw vegetables and the cooking vegetables.