Of precut price points and produce pitchmen

06/06/2014 10:29:00 AM
Fred Wilkinson

Fred Wilkinson, managing editorFred Wilkinson, managing editorPass the precut ... or pass on the precut? That is the question.

Ready-to-eat trimmed, processed and/or conveniently packaged meal solutions have long been a growth area in the produce aisle. All-inclusive salad kits, stir-fry kits and numerous other bagged salads or cooking vegetables are aimed at the time-starved consumer with healthier aspirations than a microwave burrito.

Of course part of the value proposition with value-added products such as these is a higher entry fee. In other words, they cost more than bulk or less processed commodities.

According to The Packer’s Fresh Trends 2014 consumer study, daily fresh produce consumption was highest among consumers earning $100,000 annually or more, those with kids and those who live in the Western U.S.

About a fifth of survey respondents (19%) said they prepared a meal daily that includes fresh produce.

It wouldn’t be accurate to characterize eating produce as an elite activity, but consumer groups and government food and nutrition policymakers have identified cost barriers — real or perceived — as a key reason for Americans falling short of the government-endorsed half a plate of produce consumption benchmark.

With that goal in mind, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently upgraded its choosemyplate.gov site (jeez, couldn’t they have come up with a catchier name than that?) with “Healthy Eating on a Budget” tips.

It’s a fairly comprehensive list of practical suggestions, including sample shopping lists and weekly meal planning ideas.

Among its 10 tips for “affordable vegetables and fruits,” tip No. 6 advises “buy vegetables and fruits in their simplest form. Pre-cut, pre-washed, ready-to-eat and processed foods are convenient, but often cost much more than when purchased in their basic forms.”

That’s reasonable advice for consumers on a tight budget, and our friends at the USDA aren’t alone in proscribing precut.

In the second edition of its “Keep More of your Cash” supplement, Consumer Reports magazine lists 77 ideas for saving money. Tip No. 40: Pass on precut produce.

The magazine recommends washing and cutting fruits or vegetables yourself to maximize cost savings and convenience.


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