click image to zoomPamela RiemenschneiderConsumers are looking for a healthful boost when they hit the greens in your department. What are you doing to reinforce their "superfood" status? It’s mid-winter. Local produce is in the doldrums and spring favorites are a ways away.
Google “kale” and you’ll find websites calling it “one of the healthiest vegetables around” and “the queen of greens.” The Chicago Sun-Times in January published an online article saying “kale is the new bacon,” and Bon Appetit named a Brooklyn, N.Y., restaurant’s kale salad its “2012 Life-Altering Dish of the Year.”
If you don’t have kale or other “power greens” in your produce department yet, it’s definitely time.
Consumers like kale not just for its nutritional content (including calcium and vitamins A, C and K), but also for its flavor.
“As with everything, flavor is first,” says Samantha Cabaluna, director of communications for Earthbound Farm, San Juan Bautista, Calif. “If it doesn’t taste great, people aren’t going to embrace it.”
Earthbound last year introduced its organic Power Greens blend of baby kale, baby red and green chards and baby spinach. The blend is available in a 5-ounce zip-top clamshell, a 9-ounce bag and an and 11-ounce clamshell, Cabaluna says.
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Power Greens was exciting enough to generate unsolicited praise on Facebook and Twitter from consumers who raved about the blend’s flavor and nutritional content, Cabaluna says.
Another way to add interest to the value-added set is Earthbound’s new organic Zen Blend, which is available in a 5-ounce zip-top clamshell. Cabaluna says the blend contains baby kale, red pak choi, red mizuna, komatsuna and baby spinach, making it “on trend” in three ways. It has Asian-style flavors, it offers good nutrition, and it is organic.
“It is so delicious,” Cabaluna says. “It’s a really nice blend of flavors.”
She says she thinks Zen Blend, which is part of Earthbound’s Power Greens line, is one of the company’s most exciting new products.
“Without a doubt, customers are looking for new exciting varieties from retailers,” says Ernst Van Eeghen, director of marketing and product development for Church Bros. LLC, Salinas, Calif.
They like to see things they haven’t seen before, such as Church Bros.’s new Tuscan-label heirloom red spinach variety, which it plans to offer retailers this spring, Van Eeghen says. The company has been shipping limited quantities of the product to foodservice customers.
Van Eeghen says the heirloom red spinach’s leaf is entirely red, which sets it apart from other varieties that have only the red veins. The Tuscan red spinach also is available in a blend with green spinach.
Church Bros. is marketing to its foodservice customers a new traditional-style Tuscan salad blend of baby black kale, baby scarlet kale and baby wild arugula. The product is initially available in 1-pound foodservice bags, but retail packs are expected by summer. Van Eeghen says the blend of Italian greens is good for salads and for cooking. The baby scarlet kale with its frilly red leaves is particularly attractive on a plate, he says.
Many other shippers offer retail salad blends and kits containing kale and other greens. Apio Inc., Guadalupe, Calif., last year introduced the Eat Smart sweet kale vegetable salad kit. The 12-ounce salad retails for $3.99, says Ericka Horn, marketing specialist. Ingredients include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, chicory, dried cranberries, roasted pumpkin seeds and poppyseed dressing.
Oxnard, Calif.-based San Miguel Produce Inc. added salads to its product line in late 2012. EnerCHI Salad (traditional Asian and leafy greens), IRONman Greens Salad (spinach and beet greens) and SuperKALE Salad Slaw (shredded seasonal kales and carrots) are packed in 7-ounce clamshells with salad dressing, and 8-ounce and 16-ounce clamshells without dressing. Organic salads are available.
San Miguel promotes its new salads’ nutritional benefits, including the high ratio of nutrients to calories, and their possible links to cancer prevention, cardiovascular health and eye health.
The company also offers ready-to-use cooking greens including rainbow kale, collard greens, curly mustard greens and spinach.
Watercress: “The Super Leaf”
B&W Quality Growers Inc., Fellsmere, Fla., markets watercress as the “super leaf” and as “Mother Nature’s true superfood.” The company operates a website dedicated to the product, www.watercress.com, where it promotes watercress as a good source of vitamins A, C and K.
“Watercress is one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables there is,” says Andy Brown, vice president of marketing.
Watercress, like arugula, collard greens and kale, is a cruciferous vegetable. Cruciferous vegetables contain vitamins C, E and K, as well as carotenoids, folate and minerals.
Brown says U.S. consumers are becoming more aware of watercress. In the winter, B&W exports large quantities to Europe, where it is commonly used in blended salads, Brown says.
“(In Europe,) it’s as common as spinach is here,” he says.
Brown says U.S. retailers often display watercress in the salad ingredients section of the produce department. Watercress stands out there with fresh herbs and other high-flavored items, he says.
B&W’s watercress is available in 4-ounce cello packs for retail. A pack typically retails for $2.50 to $3, Brown says. B&W also markets 4-ounce cello packs of wild baby arugula, and it ships a proprietary variety of red watercress to some upscale markets in New York City and Chicago, he says.
B&W is finding new ways to get consumers to try watercress, Brown says. It works with retailer customers to present in-store sampling and menu promotions, which lead to significant bumps in sales, he says. B&W worked with Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets Inc. to get watercress on shopping lists by including it in the chain’s Aprons Simple Meals Recipes program, Brown says. Consumers can search the Aprons recipe database for “watercress” and find the vegetable mentioned dozens of times.
Brown describes green watercress’s flavor as peppery, with less bite and after-taste than arugula. He says selling watercress and arugula is as simple as getting consumers to buy it that first time.
“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.
“We’re all eating more super greens, but red and green leaf lettuces are good choices, too, and they are healthy for the body,” she says. “We don’t need to set those aside.”
In January, Tanimura & Antle announced its Artisan Lettuce was certified as a heart-healthy food by the American Heart Association. Clamshells of Artisan Lettuce can now sport the association’s Heart-Check mark.
McClean says adding the Heart-Check mark to the Artisan Lettuce packages will help consumers more quickly identify it as a healthful choice.
To be certified, a product must meet association guidelines for fat, cholesterol, sodium and nutrient content. McClean says in addition to being low in fat, sodium and calories, an 85-gram serving of Artisan Lettuce contains 45% of the daily value of vitamin A. Tanimura & Antle’s whole petite heads of three varieties of red and green lettuces are field packed and sold in four- and six-count clamshells.
Other lettuces, including romaine hearts, boston lettuce and Artisan romaine lettuce could meet the Heart-Check requirements, but Tanimura & Antle chose to highlight its Artisan Lettuce, McClean says.
“We have strong distribution on Artisan Lettuce,” she says. “We chose this one because it’s unique to Tanimura & Antle.”
McClean says Tanimura & Antle plans to promote the nutritional value of its Artisan Lettuce and other products.
Customers are demanding more choices, not only in “super greens,” but in lettuces. It is in response to customer requests for washed whole-leaf butter lettuce, that Earthbound Farm has a new organic Butter Lettuce Blend with red and green butter lettuces, Cabaluna says. Earthbound also markets washed mature-leaf romaine and heirloom lettuces.
Cabaluna says she sees a renewed consumer interest in butter lettuces.
“It’s a really nice lettuce that has a lot of culinary appeal,” she says.