According to The Nielsen Co.'s 52-week data ending Feb. 24, fresh-cut produce was worth about $4.3 billion and deli salads/dips/spreads/toppings about $3.6 billion for U.S. grocery stores.
Riding the wave of popularity of meal kits with pre-portioned ingredients for complete meal preparation at home, Nielsen says at the end of 2017, instore meal kits generated $154.6 million in sales with 26 percent growth year-over-year.
The on-the-go snacking sub-category was worth $1.1 billion for the year ending May 27, 2017. To feed this trend, 900 new snacking items were added to grocery shelves during that period, Nielsen says, with 600 of those being individual servings of fresh-cut fruit with and without additional items.
Who’s driving that growth? Janet Eastman, director of marketing for Freshway Foods, Sidney, Ohio, says many consumers are focused on eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, and fresh salads are a delicious way they can increase their intake.
"We are finding that millennial consumers like our plant-based proteins and clean dressings, while baby boomers appreciate the wide variety of fruits and vegetables the salads contain," she says. "We see more people approaching food from a functional perspective, researching the health benefits of specific foods. We see this with cruciferous vegetables like kale and cauliflower, as well as colorful vegetables like beets and rainbow carrots, where consumers attribute a specific health benefit to the product."
Eastman says the popularity of home meal delivery kits such as Blue Apron has led more supermarkets to offer their own meal kits in-store. However, she adds, these meal kits still require cooking when the consumer gets home.
"We've found that there's a segment of the population that wants the convenience of a pre-planned meal, but still doesn't want to cook," she says. "Operators can appeal to this segment by offering healthy meal deal options that incorporate products from multiple departments in the fresh perimeter."
Salads, bowls lead the way
Freshway Foods offers a variety of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables in pack sizes including for grocery store salad bars, Eastman says.
"For the deli and prepared salads case, we offer fresh salad kits that enable grocery deli and convenience store operators to prepare fresh, delicious salads in minutes," she says. "Our deli salad kits contain all ingredients to make a large bowl of salad, and include classic favorites like coleslaw, as well as new, healthy salads that are packed with superfoods. We even offer vegetarian and vegan salads."
Freshway Foods' grab-and-go salad kits each make eight complete entrée salads. "Unlike pre-packaged salads, our grab-and-go salads are assembled in-store for a more premium appearance and fresher taste," Eastman says.
Freshway Foods' newest salad kits released this year are its:
• creamy corn and cauliflower salad —a take on elote (Mexican street corn);
• lemon pasta salad;
• buffalo cauliflower salad with chicken;
• carrot apple salad;
• tangy broccoli fruit salad; and
• Santa Fe grab-and-go salad.
Deli salads, grab-and-go salads, and salad bars can be promoted as part of a complete meal, Eastman says. "For example, adding deli chicken and bakery bread to a fresh deli salad makes a complete meal solution," she adds.
Freshway Foods' deli salad kits can be promoted in the deli case with other salads sold by the pound. "They can also be portioned out into entrée or side-salad-size containers and sold as the perfect accompaniment to a healthy meal," Eastman says.
She recommends accompanying promotional signage that says the salads are assembled in-store for freshness.
The company's grab-and-go salads can be assembled into individual clamshells or bowls and sold as entrée salads. "Each kit can also be assembled into two to four large family-size salads in a deli bowl with lid," Eastman says. "These salads should also be promoted as healthy meal options that are assembled instore for freshness."
Freshway Foods' fresh salad bar components include products that consumers perceive as more upscale, such as baby kale, matchstick rainbow carrots and diced mango, Eastman says. "Operators can promote their salad bars as premium when they contain these ingredients, and this will appeal to discerning consumers, while adding variety and color to their salads," she says.
Eastman recommends adding Freshway Foods' seasonal salads to bring excitement to an existing deli or service case. "Add variety by switching out a few items every season, so that your deli or service case is always on trend," she adds.
Blount Fine Foods, Fall River, Massachusetts, offers products featuring produce ingredients including its Asian-inspired noodle and rice bowls that launched last October. The line has four current options: chicken ramen bowl, hibachi chicken and rice bowl, Thai-inspired coconut chicken and noodle bowl, and Asian-inspired vegetable and rice bowl.
Bob Sewall, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Blount Fine Foods, says a fifth flavor will be introduced in September. "These Asian bowls are great for millennials, who want all their nutrients and protein in one meal, and these have antibiotic-free chicken as well," he says.
Sewall also says stores need to adapt to trends like "you pick two" that was popularized at Panera Bread Co. — Blount Fine Foods offers Panera's soup line for retailers as well. "Fresh soup-buying customers spends on average two-and-a-half times more than non-soup buying customers," Sewall says, citing IRI data. "That's the customer that you want."
"As time-starved consumers become more health and wellness oriented, sales of fresh, nutritious products continue to surge," he says. "Del Monte Fresh Produce is committed to meeting these needs with an expanded product assortment that fit the needs of all food channels."
Christou says Del Monte has found that consumers are interested in healthy options as alternatives to carb-heavy menu items.
"To meet this consumer need, we recently introduced Del Monte Vegetable Noodles," he says. "They are an excellent choice for consumers looking for delicious and nutritious meals and are available in seven delicious flavors, including a variety of healthy blends: zucchini/yellow squash/carrot and butternut squash/red onion/green pepper. They are sold pre-cut and ready to add to salads, sauté or boil."
Christou says retailers can promote on-the-go items to consumers during special seasonal holidays or by incorporating themed displays for celebrations such as Cinco de Mayo or Mother's Day. "We also encourage retailers to display special packaging designed for convenience close to the checkout and entrance of the store," he says. "Other great tactics include eye-catching POS on shelves, cross-merchandising and information about the product nutrition and convenience."
Mann Packing Co., Salinas, California, launched its Nourish Bowls line of single-serve, warm meals with fresh vegetables, grains and sauce in May 2016 with a suggested retail price around $4.99. "Developed by an expert panel of chefs, Nourish Bowls feature trending vegetables: kohlrabi, butternut squash, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, kale and sugar snap peas," says Jacob Shafer, senior marketing and communications specialist for Mann Packing Co. "The bowls are suited for a variety of meal occasions and can be eaten as a meal or side dish."
Nourish Bowl flavors include: Cauli Rice Curry, Southwest Chipotle, Monterey Risotto, Bacon Maple Brussels, Sesame Sriracha and the new Spicy Thai, with fresh kohlrabi noodles.
For delis, Shafer says Mann Packing Co. has taken a creative strategy with its Nourish Bowls by offering meal-pairing specials and sales to engage consumers. The company has also partnered with retailers to include the Nourish Bowls in promotions through frequent buyer cards and in-store promotions.
The Nourish Bowls are appealing to millennials by delivering flavor, convenience and quality ingredients, Shafer says. They also capitalize on the popularity of bowl-based meals with diverse and ethnic flavor profiles found in foodservice.
"This isn't a shocker, but price has the greatest influence when it comes to millennial consumers," he says. "Also, quality, brand and availability are big. This is in part due to the fact that millennials have the ability to instantly price compare and geolocate product availability. So, if something is too expensive at one store, they can locate a sale on that same product in their area with relative ease."
Mann Packing Co. offers retailers marketing materials, including recipe ideas in the company's Girlfriends Guides. "The guides feature creative consumer usage ideas including adding nuts, rotisserie chicken or serving contents in a stir-fry or wrap," Shafer says. "Further product support comes via how-to videos on the company's YouTube page and a dedicated consumer website for the U.S. and Canada.”