It probably comes as little surprise, but consumers drive the food trends we see at the supermarket. In the latest Packer TV report, some of the top produce companies discussed what’s on their radar to keep the consumer happy.
One key observation – consumers seem to be more in touch with their food now more than ever.
“We want to get it on the go,” says Mark Garcia, director of foodservice marketing at Avacados From Mexico. “We’re driving, we’re going, we’re out and about. We’re a mobile society. We want our food to be the same way.”
Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing at Del Monte, remarks: “As you bring more millennials into the workforce, they have a different lifestyle. Also, when you see families growing where the time starved parents are looking for quick and easy solutions.”
Industry leaders say today’s snack eaters are incrementally more interested in healthy eating, which have some turning to fresh produce.
“There’s a big trend in ‘Grab-N-Go’,” Christou says. “Convenience is a big driver behind some of the new products that we bring, or some of the easy-to-cook, ready meals to prepare.”
That type of convenient eating can give businesses a big boost. Some companies say they’re increasing acres on new fruit varieties just to meet demand.
“Our growers are planting more Meijer lemons [and] Cara Cara Oranges,” says Joan Wickham, director of communications for SunKist. “That’s also very popular among consumers right now.”
These trends bleed into the food service industry, too.
“You’re seeing a lot of chefs work on menus that have vegetables – not just as a side addition, but center of the plate,” Garcia says.” That’s not just for vegetarians, either.”
A chunk of the growing demand includes a push for more organic products. USDA says consumer demand for organically produced goods is rising by double-digit numbers annually. When it comes to organic, fresh fruits and vegetables are still outselling other foods. Businesses are taking note.
“We’re doing a lot of organic farming,” says Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers. “That’s really taken off. It’s a big, big thing. All of our peaches and nectarines are organic.”
As another example, Ricardo Crisantes, vice president of sales and marketing with Wholesum Harvest, says his company is transitioning 60 to 100 acres per year into organic production.
Some companies are even going a step further for their consumers. It’s no longer where or how food is grown, but who is growing it. Some companies have programs where the consumer’s money is going towards medical facilities, transportation and housing for communities for farm workers.
“By paying a few pennies on the fruit from Wholesum, they actually participate in a fund that goes back to the farm workers to improve their communities,” Crisantes says.
Organic may be gaining popularity with retail, but some say the category is slow to move throughout the food service industry.
“Organic, we love to talk about it,” Garcia says. “I don’t think it’s taken on as big of a role as we’d like to see in the food service world. One, it’s expensive. So, I think people like organic. They like the thought but they don’t necessarily always want to pay for it.”
What’s next on the horizon? Garcia says there’s a lot of focus on flavor, convenience and freshness in the food industry. Guests want to know where it comes from, especially if it’s local.