“Once people try watercress and arugula, they tend to come back,” he says.
B&W often compares the two and promotes them together at two-for prices, Brown says.
Arugula is far more common than watercress in the U.S., Brown says. It is the “pioneering baby leaf” and and is now on the menus of most white tablecloth restaurants, he says.
Watercress and arugula are evidence of an evolving U.S. palate, Brown says. It started with mesclun, which added color and a little bit of flavor to traditional lettuce. Now, consumers are looking beyond the colorful presentation to flavor. They’re more adventurous, Brown says.
“It’s all about flavor,” Brown says. “Consumers are drawn to arugula’s and watercress’s distinctive flavors.”
Promoting super status
Spinach is another leafy green that packs a lot of nutritional punch, including vitamins A and K, as Popeye fans might know. Kim St. George, senior director of marketing for Taylor Farms Retail Inc., Salinas, Calif., says the company added its “Popeye approved superfood” icon to its redesigned Popeye-brand spinach packages last year. Taylor Farms markets Popeye baby spinach, spinach and spinach mix with petite red- and green-leaf lettuces.
The new bags feature the products’ nutritional benefits on the front, where the Popeye icon also appears. Taylor Farms also relaunched its consumer-oriented website, www.popeyefreshfoods.com, to communicate the “superfood” message.
“Clearly stating the health benefits — like spinach being a superfood — directly on the front of the package in the form of an approval stamp … has been very well received,” St. George says. “Consumers want to see all product benefits on the packaging.”
Lettuce is still king
As more “power” or “super” greens are marketed, are the more traditional lettuces are being squeezed out? Van Eeghen says he thinks kale, spinach and other greens are not necessarily replacing lettuce purchases. Although some consumers might substitute nutrient-rich greens for lettuces, iceberg and romaine remain staples that drive retail produce sales, he says.
“From the research we’ve seen, if retailers have a strong iceberg lettuce and romaine program, usually all produce sales benefit from that,” Van Eeghen says.
Diana McClean, Salinas, Calif.-based Tanimura & Antle’s director of marketing, says consumers buy what’s available and what they like. McClean says some gravitate to new and different products, but they still buy lettuces. She says she likes to remind people of a key message from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate campaign: “Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.” There’s plenty of room on a plate, and as long as consumers are shopping in the produce department, they can’t go wrong, she says.