Fresh-cut and value-added produce items as ingredients, snacks and even meals, continue to build momentum in sales and new offerings.
Fresh-cut and value-added produce items as ingredients, snacks and even meals, continue to build momentum in sales and new offerings.

Produce shoppers have more value-added choices than ever, and there’s a simple reason, marketers say.

It’s all about convenience.

The numbers seem to justify the category’s growth, said Diana McClean, marketing director with Castroville, Calif.-based Ocean Mist Farms, which offers a Season & Steam value-added line of artichokes, Brussels sprouts, sweet baby broccoli and Kalettes — “all of which continue to trend in major national consumer publications.”

McClean cited Nielsen data from 2016 that reported sales of value-added vegetables increased 9%, just behind value-added fruit, at 11%; and avocados, at 10%.

Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole Food Co. saw an opportunity in the fresh fruit snacking category, said CarrieAnn Arias, vice president of marketing.

The company developed Dole Go Berries! in proprietary snack packs for grab-and-go appetites, Arias said.

The product answers a need to combine shopper preference for fresh strawberries “with out-of-the-home snacking convenience” that hadn’t been available before, Arias said.

Dole Go Berries! started arriving in stores in select cities in February, and “the early response has been positive,” she said.

Dole Home Use Tests indicated that 80% of those sampling Dole Go Berries! would likely purchase the product, and 60% of berry consumers would buy Dole Go Berries!, along with a purchase of the customary 1-pound clamshells, Arias said.

“In addition to convenience, panelists cited the perception that the snack-sized packs would keep the berries fresher than conventional packaging,” she said.

Salinas, Calif.-based Duda Fresh Foods has found a winner in its line of fresh-cut celery and radishes, which answers customer demand for “more convenient vegetable options,” said Nichole Towell, director of marketing.

IRI reported the celery stick category saw volume growth of 11% and sales growth of 14% in 2016, Towell said.

“Dandy Celery Snack Cups, complete with pre-washed and cut celery sticks and individual dip options, continue to perform well at retailers where shoppers are actively seeking fresh-cut and value-added products,” Towell said. “Consumers are also looking for healthy snack options that allow them to eat smaller portions more frequently throughout the day versus larger, more traditional meals.”

The fresh-cut and organic categories are getting a lot of shopper attention, said Terry Feinberg, principal with Salinas-based Moxxy Marketing, whose clients include several grower-shippers from the Salinas Valley.

“There seems to be a trend to combine fresh produce with other ingredients to make a more complete meal in a value-add package,” he said.

At the same time, more growers are interested in getting “farther up that value supply chain and branding their products, as opposed to being just a wholesale grower of raw produce,” Feinberg said.

There is increased consumer demand for convenience items in the greens category, with growth in this space driven by chopped salad kits, as chopped iceberg and romaine blends decline, said Sara Loveday, spokeswoman for Denver-based WhiteWave Foods Co., parent of San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based Earthbound Farm.

“Health-based deep greens — that is, kale-based blends — also continue to trend up in the space,” Loveday said.

Expect more options in the coming years, said Dan Canales, vice president of sales at Salinas-based Ippolito International.

Ippolito is “growing quickly” in Brussels sprouts halves that are ready to use in foodservice, as well as shredded Brussels sprouts, Canales said.

“We opened a value-added facility about a year ago, and that’s showing good growth,” he said.

Salinas-based Mann Packing Co. recently added to its line of Veggie Slaw Bends, with a new Kale Beet Blend, which was featured in March at the Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Exposure trade show in Orlando, Fla., said Jacob Shafer, company spokesman.

“The new blend of kale, golden beets, kohlrabi and red cabbage offers exceptional versatility,” he said.

Mann’s line now includes Kale Beet Blend, Broccoli Cole Slaw, Power Blend and Rainbow Salad, Shafer said.