The value-added and fresh-cut produce category is generating some buzz as shippers add new items, relaunch existing lines and take their marketing strategies straight to consumers.

A diverse array of products is a plus for fresh-cut shippers.

For the first time, Cashmere, Wash.-based fresh-cut apple processor Crunch Pak is shipping a product that doesn’t contain apples. It added baby carrots to its line in January.

Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International is test marketing new Fresh & Ready avocados wrapped in Landec Corp.’s shelf life-extending film.

Pero Family Farms Food Co. LLC, Delray Beach, Fla., entered the fresh-cut processing business in January with a soft launch of salad toppings and microwaveable, cut vegetables.

One trend that Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash., said he has noticed is the development of to-go, or snack sections, in supermarket produce departments.

The space provides good visibility for products such as Stemilt’s AppleSweets sliced apples, he said.

Sliced apples are in about three-fourths of U.S. supermarkets, said Tony Freytag, Crunch Pak’s marketing director.

That leaves plenty of room for growth in the category. And with a greater push to get fresh produce into school lunches, it’s likely there will be good opportunities for sliced-apple shippers in foodservice, too.

Shippers are building relationships directly with consumers through Facebook and Twitter, as well as interactive Web sites.

Monterey, Calif.-based Dole Fresh Vegetable expects the marketing campaign for its redesigned bagged salads to make at least 1.7 billion media impressions, including those made through social media.

Whether consumers will buy Dole’s salads and other value-added produce depends on how they view the value proposition.

It’s a sometimes complicated calculation involving preference, price, convenience, quality and total cost, shippers said.

The relative importance of each factor can change, but shippers agreed that offering top quality produce is a must.

“In terms of fresh-cut trends, convenience and appealing to children continue to lead the category,” said Julia Stewart, public relations director for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del.

Another trend for fresh-cut is that industrywide sales of organic fresh-cut salads are up about 9% from a year ago, said Steve Koran, senior director of retail sales and customer service for Earthbound Farm, San Juan Bautista, Calif.

Sales of conventional salads, on the other hand, are flat or declining, he said.

Samantha Cabaluna, Earthbound Farm’s communications director, said growth in the organic salad category is likely driven at least partially by the company’s ability to bring the price point very close to what it is for conventional salad.

In the overall baby greens category, 46% of sales were organic, she said.

“Given the choice, at a pretty competitive price point, people choose organic,” Cabaluna said.