The United Fresh Produce Association hosted its annual United Fresh trade show and conference from June 13-15, 2017 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. At this year’s show, the show organizers split the show into two sections - United FreshMKT Expo and United FreshTEC Expo - to provide a more personalized experience for attendees. FreshMKT Expo was targeted at attendees involved in marketing and product development while FreshTEC Expo was geared toward individuals involved in technology, robotics, and supply chain. At the show, I saw and tasted multiple products offering snacking and convenience.
Plenty of snack options were offered at the show. Introducing snack products offers a growth opportunity for fresh produce companies as Americans enjoy snacking. According to The Hartman Group’s The Future of Snacking 2016 report, 91% of U.S. consumers snack many times a day and snacking accounts for 50% of all eating occasions. "Snacking is a behavior, not a category," according to Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insights at Mintel. During her presentation at the May Sweets & Snacks Expo, Dornblaser said that "U.S. snackers overwhelmingly feel anything can be a snack." and "what defines a snack is not the category but the level of convenience and how it's used."
Fresh Convenience Snack Break
I had a chance to try many fruit and vegetable snacks during the Fresh Convenience Snack Break segment of the United FreshMKT Conference when 13 companies offered samples. Snacks offered at the snack break were grab and go options requiring no or minimal preparation (such as rinsing under water). Among the snacks sampled during the break, Naturipe snack packs from Naturipe Farms, LLC with fresh strawberries, salted nuts, and cheese stood out. I had never seen packaged washed fresh strawberries outside of a fresh fruit cup before. This line of snack packs aims to appeal to consumers who are looking for a mix of flavors and textures. Its Sweet & Smokey variety provides a multi-sensory experience with strawberries, blueberries, smokey almonds, and Monterey Jack cheese.
Many of the snaking options at the break offered a variety of colors, flavors, and textures. Del Fresco Produce aims to create excitement by providing “flavor, texture and variety” by including eight tomato varieties in its Mini Mixers Gourmet Snacking Tomatoes. Ready Pac Foods sampled its READY SNAX snack packs including varieties such as Fruit & Flabread with apples, grapes, cheddar cheese, and flatbread during the break. The company invested heavily in sampling at the show by installing a TWEET FOR FREE READY SNAX vending machine near the registration desk. Attendees who tweeted about the product with a special code received a free READY SNAX.
In terms of kid appeal, several companies offered several snack products during the Fresh Convenience Snack Break. Pure Hothouse Foods offered Mini Munchies in a colorful stand-up pouch. Mini Munchies are designed for children’s lunches with Juno Bites grape tomatoes, Aurora Bites mini peppers, and Poco Bites cocktail cucumbers. Mucci Farms offered Veggie-to-Go 3-packs that are perforated with one pack each of cucumbers, grape tomatoes, and peppers.
Crunch Pak sampled its apple slices with the packaging touting “25 calories per serving” at the snack break and new Apple Rings at its booth. On the main show floor, Dole Food Company showcased Dole GO Berries 3-packs that are perforated offer “snap, rinse and go convenience” with snack-size portions of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.
Snacks With Health Benefits
Great flavor is key to a snack’s retail success, with 85% of respondents in a Technomic survey citing “flavor or taste” as the primary factor in choosing a snack. However, consumers are also looking for health benefits as 51% of consumers said that healthfulness is important in selecting a snack in Technomic’s 2016 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report.
Consumers already have a favorable health opinion of fruits and vegetables because of their fresh, unprocessed image. Raising the protein content or using avocadoes with their “good fat” image can further elevate shopper appeal as consumers associate protein consumption with multiple benefits including energy, recovery, weight-loss, and healthier skin and hair according to New Nutrition Business as cited by Christine Pelkman, PhD, Senior Scientist at Campbell Soup Company. Reichel Foods, Inc extended its PRO2snax produce and protein line (with a 60 day shelf life) with a new PRO2snax to the max line. While the original PRO2snax offered 3-6 grams of protein per snack pack, the new PRO2snax to the max offers 13-17g of protein per snack pack. One of the varieties includes sliced apples, turkey sausage bites, white cheddar cheese, and dried cranberries.
Avocado-based snacks were plentiful at United Fresh. Good Foods Group sampled its 80-calorie Chunky Guacamole single-serve packs with tortilla chips at the Fresh Convenience Snack Break. At its booth, Good Foods Group offered a range of high-protein single-serve snack packs including Chickpea Quinoa Salad with 6 grams of protein and Artichoke Jalapeno Dip (made with Greek Yogurt) & Tortilla Chips with 7 grams of protein. Bejo Seeds Inc offered 100-calorie Yucatan Guacamole Singles during the snack break. MegaMexFoods LLC (a division of Hormel Foods) offered samples of its new Wholly Guacamole Layered Dips in three varieties including Black Bean Over Guacamole) and showed its100-calorie Wholly Avocado Chunky Minis cups and 45-calorie Wholly Avocado Verde Minis Cups. On the drinkable snacks side, Sonatural Juices offered Apple/Pear Avocado Cucumber/Spinach juice that has been produced with HPP (high pressure processing).
Food retailers (and the produce processors supplying them) are increasingly competing not just against other retailers but against restaurants and meal kit providers that offer a more convenient way to eat meals. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, food away from home’s share of total U.S. Food expenditure rose from a high of 49.0 percent in 2007, fell to 48.5 percent in 2008 during the recession, and reached 50.1 percent in 2014, to overtake at-home food sales for the first time.
Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, and other meal kit providers are also taking share away from supermarkets by providing pre-portioned meats, vegetables, fruits, grains, and spices along with recipes. Meal kits are now a $2.2 billion business according to food industry consulting firm Pentallect.
To compete against foodservice operators and meal kits, produce companies are introducing more convenient yet restaurant-quality products to reduce preparation time and effort. Mastronardi Produce partnered with celebrity chef Roger Mook to create a 15-minute dinner solution. The SUNSET MInzano pasta kit contains Minzano saucing tomatoes, dried Italian pasta, and a spice packet. Ready Pac Foods created Fresh Prep’d SoupKits and Wrap Kits to enter the $8.3 billion fresh prepared meal category as defined by market research firm IRI. The Fresh Prep’d Soup Kit aims to offer the taste of freshly made soup in three minutes by including everything needed for the soup - crisp vegetables and lean protein in separate compartments and a broth concentrate. Additionally, the Asian Inspired Beef variety allows Americans to easily recreate a Vietnamese classic by including rice noodle, cabbage, beef pho concentrate, beef steak strips, lemon, jalapeno, and cilantro without having to visit several areas of the grocery store.
Spiralizing vegetables to create vegetable “noodles” has been popular for a few years among consumers looking to reduce their intake of calories and wheat flour and increase their consumption of vegetables. However, not everyone is willing to invest the time in using a spiralizer device to create these veggie noodles. At the show, Veggie Noodle Co offered the first pre-packaged, all organic spiralized vegetables in zucchini, sweet potato, butternut and beet varieties with the "Simple But Twisted" tagline. The Veggie Noodle suggested multiple preparation methods - raw, sautéed as a pasta alternative, with sauce; as a side, salad, or soup. Green Giant Fresh markets its line of vegetable noodles in beet, butternut squash, carrot, sweet potato and zucchini varieties as “gluten-free, paleo-friendly, nutritious and delicious”. The company aims to appeal to different consumers and eating occasions by offering three different sizes ranging from family to single-serve: 20 oz clamshell, 12 oz pouch, and 6 oz bowl.
Carb-conscious consumers such as those on the Paleo diet and the calorie-conscious have been making their own cauliflower “rice” in food processors to replace rice and to make wheat-free pizza crusts. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market have also offered fresh packaged versions of cauliflower rice for a few years. Now, there are more cauliflower options for consumers. Apio, Inc sponsored the show’s June 15 breakfast and served eggs with their new Cauliflower Rice. Other cauliflower rice seen at the show included Cauliflower Crumbles “Fried Rice” Blend from Farm Day Organic and Green Giant Fresh Cauliflower Crumbles “Fried Rice” Blend. The “Fried Rice” Blend with chopped cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, and onions is the latest addition to the original Green Giant Cauliflower Crumbles.