What’s wrong with carrots?
Perhaps the question should be, “What’s wrong with us?” We aren’t eating as many carrots as we used to.
The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics on per capita availability of vegetables was issued in late October, and carrots didn’t show well.
For carrots, retail per capita availability (roughly equivalent to per capita consumption) of carrots for 2017 was 7.1 pounds, down 7% from 7.6 pounds in 2016 and off a whopping 16% from 8.5 pounds in 2015.
The high water mark for fresh carrot consumption was the 1990s, with per capita availability cresting at 13.7 pounds in 1997 after beginning that decade at just 8 pounds per capita.
Of course, baby carrots drove growth the growth, with Mike Yurosek playing a big role with the introduction of “baby carrots” in the late 1980s.
In February 1992, I reported on the phenomenon in the pages of The Packer.
Consumers have found nirvana -- and it’s baby peeled carrots
The sage who said ``Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door’’ got it right.
Witness the example of the baby peeled carrot, a new and improved version now so hotly in demand shippers have to divvy up available supply.
The big distinctive of the baby peeled carrot is the fact it is, well ... peeled. Just rip open the bag, wash and eat. Leave the potato peeler in the drawer -- this is convenience nirvana, folks.
Broccoli and cauliflower florets also are out there on the front lines of value-added produce, but baby peeled carrots seem to have shown the most firepower so far.
``They’ve really come into vogue the last six months,’’ said Vern Johnson of Grimmway Farms, Lamont, Calif.
Another plus of the baby peeled carrots has been stable pricing by California shippers, which has been running for months at $12-14 f.o.b. for 12-count cases of 2-pound bags or 24 count cases of 1-pound cases.
Several large year-round California carrot shippers are offering baby peeled carrots, including Lamont based Cal World Produce Sales and Grimmway Farms, Wm Bolthouse Farms Inc. of Bakersfield and Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc., Salinas.
A. Duda & Sons Inc., Belle Glade, Fla., recently has unveiled a mini peeled carrot pack in a 20-count case of 12-ounce bags and other Florida shippers are reportedly offering peeled carrots. Availability in Florida is expected to run from November through May.
All this interest in what used to be the culls from regular fresh carrot packing operations. Instead of shipping small carrots to the freezer or cattle feeders, grower-shippers now grow special fields for production of baby peeled carrots.
``The acceptance has been tremendous and we are at a prorate situation everyday ``We projected growth between 5 and 35 percent (in the past year); it’s probably grown 70 percent,’’ Speidell said.
"The 12-ounce, 1-pound and 2-pound cello bags are popular, and some 5-pound bags are moving through the club stores. Bulk packs are being offered to foodservice.,’’ said Rich Speidell with Cal World Produce Sales, a division of Mike Yurosek & Son Inc., Lamont, Calif. Though the baby peeled carrot has been offered by Cal World for five years, only recently has the item begun to show its potential; growth of 25 percent to 30 percent is expected.
The baby peeled carrots can command a hefty premium at retail, which can range up to double a normal cello bag. However, I recently bought a one-pound bag of baby peeled carrots for $1.49, not far above the $1.19 price for the 1-pound regular cello bag.
The sales growth for baby whole peeled carrots has not greatly subtracted from regular cello carrot business, most retail observers believe. Sales of the baby peeled carrots are at least 50 percent new business, Jensen believes.
Others are even more buoyant.
``It’s all additional sales -- we feel it’s extra carrot business, we really do,’’ said Dave Baker with Hy-Vee Food Stores Inc., Chariton, Iowa.
Consumers’ newfound appetite for baby peeled carrots has helped make life more tolerable for carrot shippers and salesmen.
Fittingly, Vern Johnson with Grimmway Farms says a person is lucky if he has a job, doubly so if he is in produce and thrice-blessed if selling carrots.
``Carrots have been a strong suit for the past 18 months,’’ he said.
Building a better mousetrap may have something to do with it.
TK: Nothing is wrong with carrots, baby or otherwise. In fact, the category boasts an enviable organic presence. IRI reported that 27% of the total carrot category sales were organic in 2017.
Still, it seems consumers have been drawn to more trendy veggies like cauliflower, onions, Brussels sprouts, and others (more on those later).
To reverse the trend, it’s time for another round of inspired innovation in the carrot category. Can we build (or market) a better, more captivating, carrot?