Households with kids still elude produce marketersSAN DIEGO — Numbers hinting at consumers’ willingness to spend more on fresh produce exist, but marketers at the United Fresh post-show conference wanted to know why the evidence is not overwhelming.

For the first time, United Fresh Produce Association held its post-show conference on produce marketing and merchandising May 17 in San Diego. That followed the trade group’s recent establishment of a 30-member Produce Marketing & Merchandising Council chaired by Roger Pepperl, marketing director of Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers.

About 100 marketers came out to talk demographics, retail strategies and social media, among other topics.

Kelli Beckel, senior marketing manager for Nielsen Perishables Group, told the group that packaged salads and berries are two categories showing muted but real evidence of a less frugal consumer.

In salads, the growth in the last 12 months has been happening in kits and complete meals.

“Thirty-five percent of new items introduced in the packaged salad category were kits,” Beckel said. “They have a higher price point so we’re talking about consumers focusing not only on price, but on value. The kits have proteins, dressing, croutons, everything they need, and they’re responding — so while the packaged salad category is flat, volume velocity for kits is up 20% in the past year.”

In berries, consumers are increasingly buying in more than one of the fresh, value-added fresh and frozen categories. Fresh has the most exclusive shoppers at 70%, far surpassing the others. But while exclusive buying of fresh or frozen berries has dropped off, the number has risen marginally for value-added — to 4%.

“Consumers are willing to pay extra money to have that convenience factor so they can eat healthy on the go,” Beckel said.

Terry Soto, president and chief executive officer of About Marketing Solutions Inc., Burbank, Calif., had spoken earlier on the importance of the Hispanic market, where larger families and steady buys of fresh vegetables are common. Beckel agreed, but pointed to other trends among consumers overall.

Fresh-food enthusiasts tend to be couples rather than families, she said, and account for 27% of U.S. sales, compared to just 19% for households with children.

“Health-conscious households with kids have been our target consumer,” Beckel said. “We’re often messaging them but they aren’t buying a lot of fresh.”

Not even packaged salads, apparently.

“Intuitively we think packaged salads should appeal to this group,” she said. “Why wouldn’t they care about it? They’re just not entering the produce department. We need to think about how to get them in.

“Why are they scared off? Is it a price point? Is the messaging not there? Or they don’t have the package sizes they want? If this is our target consumer, we need to figure out exactly how to appeal to them because currently we’re not.”

Michael Sansolo, president of Sansolo Solutions, Potomac, Md., moderated the conference. He and other speakers recommended the website as a source for downloadable marketing studies.