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40 Billion Pounds Served


Growth is good, especially when it comes to the nation’s increased produce consumption. Fruit and vegetable sales are boosting the industry’s bottom line while contributing to a healthier America. It’s the ultimate win-win.

Produce now accounts for more than $60 billion in the food retailing industry, according to a recently released report from the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), “The Power of Produce 2015.” At a time when many categories are struggling to achieve market growth, produce has grown in both dollars and volume, at 4.2 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively, the report notes.

Much of this growth is attributable to organics, finds Arlington, Va.-based FMI, observing that fruit and vegetables added $2.4 billion in new dollars for the retailing industry in 2014. While conventional produce represented 92 percent of total produce dollars last year, it accounted for just 72 percent of total new dollars.

With unprecedented innovation and promotional prowess, the produce industry is driving consumption like never before. “The Power of Produce” finds that consumers purchased a total of 40.4 billion pounds of produce in 2014, 225 million more pounds of fruits and vegetables sold than in 2013.

Opportunities abound for increasing produce consumption again this year, as the industry ramps up its marketing and promotional campaigns, and progressive grocers tap into the Millennial shopper and more.

Mushroom Movement

Earlier this year, the Mushroom Council launched The Blend — a program that recommends mixing finely diced mushrooms with proteins such as beef, turkey, lamb or pork to make hamburgers, meatloaf, tacos and meatballs — at retail. While this is the third year that the San Jose, Calif.-based council has run the campaign in the foodservice channel, it’s the inaugural year for The Blend at supermarkets.

Retailers can use or modify the council’s recipe concepts to introduce healthier versions of a wide variety of meals. What’s more, The Blend can help reduce shrink in the produce department.

“The Blend at retail is more than a program for this year or next; it’s really a new way of doing business,” says Steven Muro, of Fusion Marketing, for the Mushroom Council. The program is introduced in supermarket deli, meat and prepared food departments, with the idea that consumers will eventually purchase the ingredients to create The Blend at home.

“Initial testing indicates that the growth rate is phenomenal,” says Muro. “Retailers report increased sales of mushrooms meats and protein as well as ancillary products like cheeses and buns.”

According to Muro, the smallest increase in mushroom sales at The Blend-participating retailers was 17 percent while stores that implemented demos saw an increase in mushroom sales as high as 20 percent. Retailers are using a variety of mushrooms — from button to portabella — to create The Blend.

“In the past it was an either/or situation — meat or vegetarian. Instead of either/or The Blend is a continuum. Mixing mushrooms into a burger isn’t just healthier the burgers taste better,” he asserts.

The Mushroom Council offers retail research about The Blend as well as strategic planning; promotional support; in-store materials; talking points for deli meat and prepared food staff; and handouts for demos that explain the health benefits. To learn more about The Blend demos and displays visit

Avocados Every Day

While produce sales are strong many consumers continue to fall short of filling half of their plates with fruits and vegetables.

“In February, a special federal commission that reviews American dietary guidelines every five years noted that, at most, 2 percent of children in most age groups are consuming the recommended amount of vegetables on a given day,” notes Stephanie Bazan, market development director for Avocados from Mexico (AFM), in Irving, Texas. “The federal commission’s data was startling, and the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), Avocados From Mexico and others took notice.”

With the goal of getting more fruits and veggies on Americans’ plates, AFM became a founding member of FNV, a new campaign developed by Washington, D.C.-based PHA to increase produce consumption.

“FNV, short for ‘fruits and vegetables,’ brings together celebrities, athletes and produce brands for a marketing blitz to encourage consumption,” explains Bazan, adding, “We hope for more kids to fall in love with avocados!”

AFM recently rolled out its 2015–16 marketing program, which will be anchored in a new campaign highlighting the dedication that goes into cultivating avocados, as well as the many ways consumers can enjoy them.

“As a market leader, we will kick of the season with a strong program to support Hispanic heritage, tailgating, holidays, Super Bowl, March Madness and Cinco de Mayo,” says Maggie Bezart Hall, AFM VP of retail and promotion, who further notes that AFM broke records earlier this year by shipping more than 50 million pounds of avocados a week prior to the Super Bowl to support the Guac Fiesta promotion.

The California Avocado Commission, in Irvine, Calif., has partnered with chef Charlie Kleinman on recipes featuring avocados. “For me, California avocados are synonymous with summer,” says Kleinman. Recipes are available at

The Irvine-based Hass Avocado Board, through its Love One Today initiative, continues to promote avocados through a science-based food and wellness education program that encourages consumers to include fresh avocados in everyday healthyeating plans. Studies show that avocados’ versatility is the strongest driver of sales, and the board is committed to educating consumers on new, interesting ways to use the fruit.

Opportunities in Juicing

In the “Power of Produce” report, FMI notes that produce snacking and juicing are growing meal occasions, especially popular among Millennials and families with young children.

Indeed, the juicing trend is sweeping the nation with the help of The Nunes Co.’s promotion of its new organic Foxy BroccoLeaf through live in-store demos in more than 100 stores this summer.

Last summer, Foxy toured the country teaching consumers that broccoli leaves have a sweet, light flavor and are rich in calcium, vitamin C, folate and phytonutrients. Foxy also ran demos of how to “Rejuicinate,” that is, to juice without wasting food. Based on the success of last year’s in-store demos, the company has expanded the program this year.

“We’ll probably have led demos in 150 stores by the time we’re done this year,” predicts Matt Seeley, VP of marketing for The Nunes Co., in Salinas, Calif., adding, “There’s been such huge demand, we decided to extend the demos into September.”

The demos are conducted primarily by Corvallis, Ore.-based Turn-Key Marketing, which specializes in the natural and health food store consumer. And while the program focused solely on juicing last year, this year’s demos are also showing consumers how to do a quick and tasty sauté with BroccoLeaf.

“We’re all looking for ways to increase produce consumption,” says Seeley. “We believe that all the juicing activity going on now is an ideal way for fruit and vegetable players to get involved.”

Among juicers, Seeley has identified a range of consumer profiles that retailers can target. “As we watched the juicing trend take over, we saw that there’s the family who is juicing 2 to 3 pounds of produce a day,” he observes, “and we also saw the other end — the people who use yogurt or milk with produce to make a smoothie.”

One of the most exciting opportunities presented by juicing, notes Seeley, is that it gets vegetables into the first meal of the day, so that vegetable suppliers now have a breakfast product.

Eating by Example

Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption is a healthy goal for everyone, including those in the produce industry. After connecting in the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Foundation for Industry Talent Emerging Leaders program, a number of industry members forged the initiative Eating by Example, the mission of which is to serve and eat more produce, and thereby lead by example.

“As future leaders in this industry, we recognized the disconnect that often occurs as we talk about the great benefits of fresh produce and increasing consumption at company and industry events, while eating pastries, cakes or sweets,” points out Cassie Howard, category manager at Sunkist Growers Inc., in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

“We felt that as industry members, we had an opportunity to change those habits and set an example for consumers by showing how great and easy it is to consume the healthy products we produce,” she adds.

Sunkist has set a goal of offering fresh oranges, grapefruits and mandarins for office staff, while also including a variety of fresh produce offerings at its annual meeting and office celebrations. (More about Eating by Example can be found at

To entice consumers to increase their produce consumption, Sunkist recently launched new retail marketing bins. These fully customizable secondary-display bins, which can be digitally printed directly on corrugate, hold 60 to 80 pounds of fruit. For this summer, Sunkist has created bins showcasing Valencia oranges and fresh lemons.

Young Guns

FMI’s “Power of Produce” report notes, “Children are an important point of entry to increased produce consumption and organic produce purchasing.” But many parents continue to struggle with getting their kids to eat fruits and vegetables.

Scores of industry organizations and produce suppliers have launched and continue to launch kid-friendly programs and products designed to increase consumption among youngsters. “Eat Brighter!” is one such program, which Newark, Del.-based PMA, Sesame Workshop and PHA recently revealed will continue through 2018.

The groups have been tracking the movement’s early adopters for approximately six months, and say participants are reporting positive sales lifts of 1 percent to 2 percent on Eat Brighter branded items. Nearly 60 companies, representing more than 130 commodities, have signed onto the movement, with more than 30,000 retail stores accepting Eat Brighter branded product.

In an effort to educate consumers of all ages about how greenhouse produce is grown, Nature-Fresh Farms, of Leamington, Ontario, recently unveiled an attention-grabbing use of its Eat Brighter branded greenhouse-grown produce. NatureFresh’s custom-designed mobile Greenhouse Education Center (GEC) has a back door that features a full graphic promoting Eat Brighter with images of Cookie Monster holding bell peppers, Big Bird with tomatoes, and Elmo with cucumbers.

The custom-built, 38-foot mobile micro-greenhouse attraction even offers a live bumblebee ecosystem. Designed and built by NatureFresh Farms’ sister company, Leamington-based greenhouse builder South Essex Fabricating, the GEC contains a variety of mature, fruit-bearing tomato, bell pepper and cucumber plants.

“Our idea of taking a greenhouse into the city, direct to the consumer, is to not only educate, but to help people make informed decisions going forward,” notes Chris Veillon, director of marketing.

The GEC will be on tour throughout North America this year into late fall, with key stops at select retailers, schools and consumer events.

Meanwhile, Orlando, Fla.-based Produce for Kids (PFK) is encouraging families to make over their cookouts with plenty of produce this summer. Its new “Simply Summer: 20 Fresh Cookout Favorites” e-cookbook contains 20 healthy summer dishes, including Hidden Veggie Cheeseburgers, and Light & Fresh Potato Salad.

All of the recipes featured in the free, downloadable e-cookbook highlight fresh produce as the main ingredients in an effort to help increase families’ consumption of fruits and veggies during this timeframe.

In addition, PFK will host the #SimplySummer Pin to Win Sweepstakes all summer. Consumers can create their essential summer cookout pinboard for a chance to win a $100 grocery store gift card.

Summer Sells

Fresh produce and summertime go hand in hand. Beyond promoting seasonal fruits and vegetables, however, it’s also an opportunity to get shoppers to think of new and exciting ways of cooking and serving produce.

“Shoppers are grilling more vegetables in the summer, and now they are starting to grill more fruits as well,” observes Karen Caplan, president and CEO of Frieda’s Specialty Produce, in Los Alamitos, Calif.

“One of the food trends this year is making vegetables the main course, and summer grilling season sets the perfect stage for that,” continues Caplan, who adds that recent studies show that 87 percent of American households have outdoor barbecues, and that they believe grilling is a healthier way to prepare meals.

In validation of consumer perceptions, shorter cooking times on the grill ensure that much of the nutritional content is retained in vegetables.

Frieda’s recommends introducing shoppers to the idea of grilling Shishito peppers, baby bok choy, Belgian endive, eggplant, fava beans, fingerling and baby potatoes, starfruit, and pineapples.

A number of suppliers are also making summer vegetable eating more fun with themed packaging. Salinas-based Mann Packing Co., for instance, is shipping an 18-ounce seasonal Summer Fun veggie tray that features an assortment of washed and ready-to-eat fresh vegetables — celery, carrots, sugar snap peas and broccoli florets — as well as a 3-ounce container of ranch dip. The summer-themed trays are available through September.

Duda Farm Fresh Foods, of Oviedo, Fla., hopes its newest promotion will be a home run with shoppers. Three of the company’s top-selling fresh-cut celery bags will feature baseball packaging through October. The theme is “An All American Snack.”

Duda is also working with top national brands on in-store and on-pack cross-promotions in tandem with the baseball-themed bags. spreading the word by engaging with followers on all of its social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest) during baseball season.

“The Blend at retail is more than a program for this year or next; it’s really a new way of doing business.”
—Steven Muro, The Mushroom Council

“We believe that all the juicing activity going on now is an ideal way for fruit and vegetable players to get involved.”
—Matt Seeley, The Nunes Co.

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