Certain indicators point to an improving U.S. economy. For example, 2014 ended with the biggest quarterly gain in consumer spending since 2006. More recently, sales of new single-family homes reached a seven-year high in February. U.S. auto sales continued to tick upward in March, as did consumer confidence.
Want one more example that is industry specific? Demand for fresh-cut produce is climbing again.
“As the economy improves, people are gravitating toward value-added items because they have more money to spend,” said Jim Pandol, president of Bakersfield, Calif.-based Jim Pandol & Co. “There was good, steady growth in fresh-cut before the economy slowed down in 2008, 2009 and 2010. I think as the economy slowly improves, we see value-added coming on.”
Pandol’s company isn’t selling fresh-cut fruit, but some of the honeydew melons his company imports from Mexico are being sold to processors.
“People want that convenience,” he said. “People would rather have a cup of fruit than a whole melon.”
Michael Martori, vice president of East Coast sales for Pura Vida Farms LLC, Scottsdale, Ariz., said demand for fresh-cut melons continues to grow at a significant rate, and processors are becoming more diverse in their offerings.
“Retailers are carrying more styles of fresh-cut melons,” he said, “not only halves and quarters, but chunks, spears and mixes and adding more size options, from cup-sized to gallon-sized, with many options between.”
Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce, said, “There is still room for growth in fresh-cut melon demand,” but some sources said fresh-cut products could see increasing competition within the melon category from personal-sized melons.
“Sales are shifting from cut watermelon to mini-sized varieties,” said Josh Knox, category general manager at Robinson Fresh, Eden Prairie, Minn. “In regards to watermelons specifically, these sizes are starting to replace cut watermelon halves or quarters at retail level as a result of consumers looking for the right amount of fruit rather than the convenience of fresh-cut.”
That would be welcome news for Dulcinea Farms LLC, Ladera Ranch, Calif., where the PureHeart mini seedless watermelons are a staple item.
“Demand on minis continues to grow,” said vice president of sales Steve Dabich. “They’re easy to handle. It’s become a convenience item for consumers, and more consumers are living in small households.”