The migration of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables from the produce sections of United States grocery store to delis began long ago and shows no signs of letting up, as consumers continue to put “convenience” and “healthy” at the top of their culinary wish lists.

At many if not most of the nation’s top retailers, the deli party platter options will likely include a cut fruit tray (think cantaloupe, watermelon, pineapple, strawberries, grapes), with dip included (yogurt, the occasional cream cheese, caramel if apples are involved).

On the veggie side, there’s a good chance you’ll find a platter with broccoli, cauliflower, baby carrots, celery sticks and grape tomatoes with ranch (maybe hummus) in the deli section of your local retailer. 

Grocers will also pair fresh-cut produce with cheese, meats, pretzels and other foods. Garnish veggie trays, filled with toppings for sandwiches, wrap or burgers, are another option.

Some fresh produce grower-shippers are taking the next step in produce-meets-deli, tapping into other category buzz words: “heatable,” “ready to eat,” “meal solutions,” to name a few.

Take Salinas, California-based vegetable grower-shipper Mann Packing Co. Inc., which specializes in fresh-cut and value-added vegetable products.

One of its newer lines, Nourish Bowls, is being marketed in some grocery deli departments throughout the U.S. and Canada, says Jacob Shafer, Mann’s senior marketing and communications specialist.

The single-serve, heatable bowls, introduced in 2016, combine on-trend vegetables —including butternut squash, sweet potatoes, sugar snap peas and cauliflower rice — with grains and sauces.

For them to thrive in deli, produce-based products must be presented differently than they would be in produce, Shafer says.

“When it comes to fresh veggies, consumers typically want to touch the product, smell it and pick out what looks best,” he says. “For Nourish Bowls in deli, it’s more product- and packaging-focused.”

Deciding to market a fresh vegetable-based product in the grocery deli department instead of in its natural home — fresh produce — creates marketing challenges, Shafer says — and opportunities.

“We’ve taken a creative strategy with Nourish Bowls in deli, such as offering meal pairing specials and price sales to engage consumers,” he says. “We’ve partnered with retailers on their frequent buyer cards, promotions and in-store promotion, as well.”

Since today’s shoppers, particularly the all-important Millennials, have instant access to what comparable products cost in rival stores, it’s vital to offer them enticing deals and on-trend packaging, Shafer says. He believes the Nourish Bowls line does just that, which should help ensure its continued success.

“We feel Nourish Bowls can continue to thrive in the deli section of the grocery.”

Winner of the Best New Product Award at the annual Canadian Produce Marketing Association convention in Toronto in May, Nourish Bowls — the only warm vegetable-based meal kits in the market, according to Mann — come in five varieties: Southwest Chipotle, Monterey Risotto, Sesame Sriracha and, most recently, Cauli Rice Curry and Bacon Maple Brussels.

Created to tap into the surging popularity of both bowl-based meals and foods with diverse ethnic flavors, Nourish Bowls bring to the fresh-cut vegetable category what single-serve salad bowls brought to bagged salads, according to the company.

In developing the line, Mann wanted a healthy, warm single-serve meal that could be ready in three or four minutes, Shafer says. To reach that end, the company partnered with three San Francisco Bay area chefs to develop flavor profiles.