Freshness, shelf life drive living produce category - The Packer

Freshness, shelf life drive living produce category

06/27/2011 10:12:00 AM
Dan Gailbraith

Marketing agents of living produce say the concept is simple: If it’s alive and fresh and it stays that way much longer than conventional produce.

Rob Arnold, vice president of marketing for Luurtsema Sales Inc., Jenison, Mich., supplies retail customers with Living Salad Bowls, which the company describes as “an eclectic mix of popular herbs and lettuces growing in a large patio bowl.”

The idea behind the bowl, which carries a retail price of around $20, is that when it is kept in a good, sun-drenched spot and maintained properly with the right amount of water, it will grow all summer, “providing a full season of fresh salads.”

Luurtsema has been selling the product for years, Arnold said.

“It’s doing well,” he said.

The product has been well received in retail stores and garden centers, Arnold said.

“We’ve had a lot of success at retail,” he said. “More are interested in carrying them.”

The Living Salad Bowl and all living produce items are part of a growing category, Arnold said.

“I think it’s the same thing that’s driving the growth for any vegetables,” he said. “It’s how the economy has gotten people to look at gardening, that it saves you a lot of money. I think some of the food safety concerns. People like having control.”

Salinas, Calif.-based Tanimura & Antle also has seen its living lettuce program take off, said Rick Antle, chief executive officer.

“It’s an emerging category,” he said. “Retailers don’t need to trim it. We’ve seen a lot of people only carrying the living lettuce.”

The category is bound to win over more followers, he said.

“It’s definitely growing,” he said.

Living produce comes in other forms, too. Living Lettuce Farms, Reseda, Calif., has been growing and supplying living head lettuce for 15 years, said Michelle Goldman, who owns the company with her husband, David Goldman.

“It’s sold at farmers markets in the area,” she said. “All the people who sell at the farmers markets sell lettuce intact.”

The product isn’t well known, but it is gaining a following, she said.

“It’s still not very common to most people, but when you explain to them what hydroponics means, then they get it and it’s fine,” she said. “When people go out and search for it, the roots are still attached and it’s still living, and people wonder what you’re shopping for.”

Goldman’s product isn’t the “Living Salad Bowl,” but the living lettuce also boasts a longer shelf life than comparable conventional cut-and-cleaned product,” she said.

“The roots are still intact, and as long as you keep the root moist, it will be fine for two weeks,” she said.

The category has grown for Living Lettuce Farms without much help from conventional retailers, Goldman noted.

“We have from time to time little gourmet specialty markets here and there who would buy the head lettuce, but for the most part, it goes to the farmers market,” she said.

The company sells about 300 heads a week, she said.

Mirabel, Quebec-based Hydroserre Mirabel has been selling living Boston lettuce for years, and sales continue to grow, said Daniel Terrault, vice president of sales and marketing.

“With all the baby boomers, everybody wants to be healthy, and it’s growing tremendously,” he said. “The fact that we’re protected in the clamshell is something also that sells the product.”

Terrault said his company ships about 12 million heads per year.

Thermal, Calif.-based North Shore Greenhouses Inc. also has noted “tremendous growth” in the category, said Serena Leiterman, executive assistant and business development representative with the company, which offers 21 varieties of living culinary herbs.”

“There’s a huge rush now in cooking at home, and our products fit right into that trend,” she said. “Retailers and consumers are very, very happy with it.”

Shelf life also is an edge with living herbs, she added.

“You buy the cut herbs, you do have a very limited shelf life by the time they make it to the consumer,” she said. “Even products that do well in freshness are really at the ends of their shelf life. With our fresh herbs, you have that instant shelf life and you can continue to use it during the week and include fresh ingredients.”

The product is pricier than cut herbs, at least up front, Leiterman said.

“They are a little bit more expensive than cut herbs, but when you’re looking at overall net profits, you save so much in the shrink that typically ours ends up being the better deal for the retailer,” she said.

Marc Clark, executive vice president of Rocket Farms Inc., Salinas, said his company’s organic living herb program is now four years old — and growing.

“Our idea was it was an alternative to fresh cut,” he said. “It’s nice to do both. They’re both good, but there are some people who prefer to have that living herb at home.”

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