Seasonal Fruit Is Ripe for Growth

Interesting new varieties, locally grown items and convenient packaging help grocers enhance their seasonal fruit offerings
Lynn Petrak
Senior Editor
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Seasonal Fruit Is Ripe for Growth
The pandemic helped boost interest in fresh fruit eaten at home.

As roadside farmstands and farmers’ markets get underway, retailers can compete and attract shoppers to the produce section with seasonal fresh fruit offerings that meet consumers’ preferences for taste, variety, nutrition and sustainability. The market for seasonal fruit is – pardon the pun – ripe with opportunity.

Consumers may not be eating the recommended amount  – a recent survey from the Produce for Better Health (PBH) Foundation shows that 80% of Americans under-consume fruits and three-fourths of consumers eat fruit at least once a week – but fresh fruit remains a perennially popular foodstuff, and the category is making modest gains, with the potential for more. Brentwood, Mo.-based PBH finds that fruit has experienced a slight increase in net consumption frequency since 2015. Importantly for grocers, almost 72% of fruit is consumed at home, and at-home consumption is increasing in frequency.

The pandemic helped boost interest in fresh fruit eaten at home even more. The most recent “Power of Produce” report from Arlington, Va.-based FMI – The Food Industry Association shows that the 40% of shoppers who buy more fresh fruit now attribute their intake to increased snacking and breakfast consumption, habits fueled by pandemic-era lifestyles.

Coming out of the era of social distancing, those new behaviors are balanced by a return to entertaining. According to a study from Chicago-based C+R Research, 42% of shoppers say that they’re more likely to purchase unique products to make summer gathering more fun.

To keep momentum not only going but also growing, retailers and their produce department teams can focus on seasonal fresh fruit products with attributes that appeal to today’s shoppers.

a close up of a fruit
In the apple arena, the Cosmic Crisp variety is poised to become the next Honeycrisp.

Garden-Variety Favorites and New Bloomers

Familiar favorites dominate fresh fruit sales, with per capita eating occasions led by bananas, apples, strawberries and oranges, according to the PBF findings.

However, even as consumers enjoy the classics, buzzworthy new varieties often gain traction on social media and spill over into real demand at grocery. Over the past few years, interesting varieties and hybrids like Cotton Candy grapes, Tangelos and Meyer lemons have caught consumers’ attention.

What kind of new or interesting fruits should retailers be looking for this summer, at the height of fruit production in many parts of the United States?

Tropical fruits should be hot, aligning with tropical fruit flavors that are trending in other types of food and beverage categories. In addition to tropical fruit stalwarts like pineapple, mango and grapefruit, grocers can look to reinvigorate their produce sections with tropical items that have grown in popularity, like guava, passion fruit, persimmon, papaya and lychee, among others.

Growers are working on innovative varieties in these segments. For instance, Frieda’s Specialty Produce, of Los Alamitos, Calif., has recently launched new Honey and Snow Dragon lychee and Rambas rambutan at retail.

“I’m excited to be making up for lost time with my grandkids, and whether we’re lounging by the poolside or picnicking in the backyard, you can be sure I’m always introducing them to new fruits,” notes Allen DeMo, Frieda’s director of grower relations and business development. “This year I’m excited to introduce them to lychees and rambutan, by far the freshest and juiciest, I’ve ever seen.”

In the apple arena, the Cosmic Crisp variety is poised to become the next Honeycrisp. A cross between the Honeycrisp and Enterprise varieties, the Cosmic Crisp will be the focus of a summer retail campaign highlighting its versatility as an ingredient in apple “burgers,”  as well as drinks, potato salad and pies.

“It took over 20 years of classic breeding, research and development through Washington State University to perfect the Cosmic Crisp apple, and it’s only been on retail shelves for a total of 12 months,” remarks Kathryn Grandy, chief marketing officer for Proprietary Variety Management, the Yakima, Wash.-based company leading marketing efforts for the brand. “Our strong performance in the category is a testament to consumer reception of this new apple. With higher volumes and additional secondary products coming, the Cosmic Crisp will continue to differentiate the retailers that merchandise and promote the brand.”

Meanwhile, following the success of Cotton Candy grapes, grocers can keep an eye on novelty table grape varieties, such as new Julep grapes boasting a spicy flavor, and Kokomo grapes offering a tropical taste. “There was a dramatic increase in patented table grape varieties from 27% in 2014 to 52%,” observes Heidi de Villiers, commercial manager for table grapes Africa and Middle-East at Bakersfield, Calif.-based International Fruit Genetics (IFG).

On another front, as plant-based alternatives gain a firm foothold in the meat category, jackfruit can be merchandised as a substitute in dishes meant to resemble pulled pork or gyros. Summer is a good time to promote jackfruit, both as a meat alternative that can be grilled or as a fruit that can be added to a light salad.

a piece of cake sitting on top of a table
Frieda’s Specialty Produce recently launched Honey and Snow Dragon lychee and Rambas rambutan at retail.

Easy There

In addition to new varieties, convenience can elevate fresh fruit at retail.

The definition of “convenience” is expanding, especially during and after the pandemic, increasingly focusing on ease of use. To that end, seedless varieties of favorite seasonal fruits resonate with consumers, especially in the summer, when seedless watermelon and seedless lemons take some of the work out of preparation and serving.

Convenience encompasses packaging, too. Titan Farms, for example, has introduced new 3- and 4-pound club packs. “Behind these two new club packs was the need to address what we saw as a trend toward packaged produce items during the pandemic, which we anticipate will continue into post-pandemic life as well,” explains Ross Williams, director of packaging operations and food safety at Ridge Spring, S.C.-based Titan. “Something that’s going to be hard for people to forget is their produce consumption practices during the pandemic, when they tended to lean more toward packaged items.”

Mirroring other trends, convenient packaging for fruit can also be more sustainable. Sage Fruit Co., in Yakima, packages apples and pears in a completely paper tote bag that’s recyclable and compostable.

Keeping it Close

Another way that grocers can ring up more seasonal fresh fruit sales is to highlight fresh fruits that are locally grown. Whether they’re recreating the look and feel of a farmers’ market with creative displays, or simply carrying more locally grown fruits, retailers can tap into the demand for such products, especially among younger and health- and sustainability-minded shoppers.

According to the FMI’s “Power of Produce” report, more than half of shoppers want a greater assortment of local offerings in their produce departments. The definition of “local” is evolving, too: the 2017 edition of “Power of Produce” showed that consumers defined “locally grown” geographically by a mile radius and state lines, while the 2021 report shows an additional emphasis on country and family farms.

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