Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst with The NPD Group Inc,,spoke Aug. 23 to more than 300 attendees at the U.S. Apple Association’s Annual Outlook and Crop Marketing Conference. ( The Packer )

CHICAGO — The rise of online grocery sales and fast-changing consumer attitudes about healthy eating present both opportunities and challenges to fresh apple marketers.

That was the message Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst with The NPD Group Inc,, delivered Aug. 23 to more than 300 attendees at the U.S. Apple Association’s Annual Outlook and Crop Marketing Conference.

“Think inside the box,” he said. “Get in the meal kit box and be present where consumers are present.”

Consumers are embracing fresh food and that trend will continue, he said.

“Explore how you can make fresh food preparation more convenient,” he said.


Healthy eating

Changes in food retailing are happening fast, he said, and the definition of convenience is shifting.

Retailers that don’t change with the times will find themselves in trouble, he said.

The online share of all retail (food and non-food) sales increased from 7.1% in 2016 to 7.7% by mid-2017. 

Online sales for consumer electronics exceed 30%, while online food sales account for about 4% of total sales, he said.

One of the biggest barriers to online sales of fresh produce is that many consumers want to pick their own fresh items, but he said those restraints can be overcome.

Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods is a step in that direction, and Walmart has created a pilot system where consumers can direct online shoppers which fresh items to pick for their order.

“Roadblocks and barriers are starting to come down,” he said.

Online retail also is redefining meal planning by helping consumers reduce or eliminate shopping as a step in dinner preparation, he said.

About 16% of shoppers say they have used online shopping for edible groceries in the past 30 days, most of whom shopped groceries online for delivery to the home.

For all consumers who have ever tried online grocery shopping, nearly three out of four say have done so in the last three months. That shows strength for continued online grocery growth, he said.

While consumers want to save time and avoid the hassle of shopping, Seifer said they still want fresh in their meals.

Frozen food can save consumers time, but they are not on point with the trend toward fresh eating in the same way fresh foods in meal kits are.

Consumers need help in deciding what to eat, since most consumers don’t know what they are having for dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon.

The meal kit solves that question and also takes away the need for shopping, he said.


Fresh fruit trends

Seifer said fresh fruit is a clear winner in consumer trends in the last decade and should continue to ride that trend. Americans are snacking more and apples fit in that trend, he said.

Apples are primarily thought of consumers as a stand-alone snack, with more than 90% consuming the fruit that way. 

He said marketers need to remind consumers to add apples to dishes and show them how to use apples as an ingredient, such as in smoothies.

While apples are typically eaten at lunch, marketers could also prompt consumers to eat apples for breakfast and late in the day as well.

Apple sales to restaurants have declined in volume the last two years, and he urged marketers to stem those losses.

Honeycrisps sold through broadline distributors have climbed, and he said premium apple options could help boost foodservice sales.


Tribal eating

The way consumers eat has less to do with nutrition than “tribal” beliefs about authenticity and wholesomeness. From Whole 30 to Paleo diets, many consumers derive information and convictions from a book or a website.

“We are getting very individualistic when it comes to healthy eating,” he said.

Consumer desires for “clean” and “fresh” are positive for apples, he said. Organic and non-GMO also resonate with many young consumers.

“People want to know that their values align with your values,” he said.