SAN DIEGO -- Interest in Asian and other ethnic foods is making some variety items ripe for exploitation in produce departments, according to research from a firm that tracks consumer eating habits.
That interest is changing the way Americans eat, and is also making snow peas the fastest growing item by consumption in the fresh vegetable category, according to the latest data compiled by MRCA Information Services, Stamford, Conn.
Officers from MRCA presented some of their current research on fruit and vegetable consumption trends at a workshop called "What America Eats," during the Produce Marketing Association convention and exposition here.
"It really shot out to us that snow peas are growing by leaps and bounds, about 300% over the last five years," said Diane Brewton, senior vice president for MRCA.
"This dovetails with the fact that ethnic and Oriental foods are doing quite well," Brewton said, adding that garlic has also benefited from recent news reports about its healthfulness.
interest in ethnic foods. Onions fall behind only potatoes in the list of the most-consumed fresh vegetables, with a 96% penetration rate.
In terms of the way onions are used as ingredients, 16% go into some form of salad, said Murphy, and 10% go into hot dishes. Using onions for Oriental dishes is up 77% and their use with rice is up 19% since 1989, the research showed.
MRCA compiled its latest crop of data through a sampling of 2,000 households. Members of those households continuously recorded everything they ate over various two-week periods. The survey is an annual one, with different households reporting throughout the year.
In the fresh fruit category, said Brewton, kiwifruit is enjoying the greatest increased consumption rates, climbing about 125% since 1989. Pineapples followed, with a 90% increase from 1989 to 1994. Beyond the hot spot of ethnic items, however, both fresh fruits and vegetables have suffered a slight drop in consumption over that five-year period, Brewton said.
Vegetables, she surmised, are apparently falling prey to the increasingly hectic pace of the lives Americans lead.
"We attribute this decline to simpler meal components," she explained. "People are not having two or three or four side dishes anymore. They're having one or two."
MRCA's survey found that the average person eats a fresh vegetable once a day, which is twice the rate at which fresh fruit is being consumed. That's a far cry from the industry goal of five fruits or vegetables consumed daily.
The picture is not completely bleak for fresh vegetable consumption, however, she said. "The good news is that virtually everyone in the United States eats fresh vegetables during the year."
Those who use fresh vegetables tend to have a higher income than those who use canned or frozen, according to MRCA's findings.
Fresh vegetable users also tend to skew a little bit older, which Brewton attributed to an aging population's greater concern with health.
While fresh fruit may not be consumed as often as fresh vegetables, MRCA found fruit does have one advantage over its produce counterparts -- convenience.
In 1994, 72% of fruits were eaten as is, Murphy said. Eighteen percent of fresh fruits were used as ingredients in recipes, and 10% as additives.
That's close to the reverse of how consumers are using fresh vegetables; two-thirds were used as ingredients, and one-quarter as is, according to MRCA data.
Kiwifruit is steadily increasing in popularity; but not surprisingly, bananas and apples remain the stalwarts of the fresh fruit section, noted Brewton.
Bruce Peterson, produce director for Wal-Mart Supercenters, Bentonville, Ark., who was the moderator of the workshop, said that retail produce decision-makers are recognizing that they have to adapt their product assortments to shoppers' changing needs and wants -- including a heightened interest in ethnic cuisines.
"Over the past 10 years or so, retailers have made a major shift from offering the public things they have to sell, and moving toward what the customer wants to buy," said Peterson.