Convenience, health, freshness, versatility — four things at the very top of food consumers’ wish lists.

Bagged salads and leafy greens deliver on all four, and grower-shippers continue to innovate with new products for the retail fresh perimeter.

Salinas, California-based grower Growers Express, the licensee of all Green Giant Fresh branded lettuces and mixed vegetables packed under the label, is spotlighting two new products heading into the New Year, says Jamie Strachan, the company’s CEO: Washed & Trimmed Lettuces and Living Butter Lettuce.

The Washed & Trimmed Lettuces come in three varieties: Romaine, Red Leaf and Green Leaf. The company introduced them, Strachan says, to make it easier for consumers to use lettuce as a wrap or bread substitute.

“Health and convenience are two criteria we continually strive to reach, and we feel the Washed & Trimmed Lettuces deliver on these qualities,” Strachan says.

Convenience and freshness

Convenience and freshness are two consumer trends dominating the marketing of fresh produce in general and leafy greens in particular, Strachan says. And not only are they growing, he says — increasingly, they’re converging.

“In the past, these two have not always gone together, but with new ways to package fresh vegetables and a growing array of value-added products, consumers can now have both,” Jamie Strachan, Growers Express

Providing nutritious and versatile options to help spark healthier lifestyles for consumers is central to everything Growers Express does, Strachan says. Because of that, the company is constantly developing new mixes, blends and meal-ready fresh vegetable products.

“These unique new items – many of which are microwavable right in their package – are not only easy and convenient options valued by time-starved consumers, but also offer more nutrient-rich alternatives for a variety of dishes,” he says.

Organic options

Four of the newest items from organic leafy greens specialist Earthbound Farm, all of which are packed in 5 oz clamshells, cover a wide range of flavors and varieties:

·          Mighty Spinach (spinach, bok choy, pak choi, tat soi)

·          Rosé Blend (lolla rossa, red oak, red tango, red baby butter, radicchio) 

·          Red Baby Butter

·          Baby Spinach+Baby Kale

Nathalie Fontanilla, vice president of marketing and innovation for San Juan Bautista-based Earthbound Farm, says all four products check boxes for flavor, variety, beauty, texture and nutrient density.

“Mighty Spinach offers that flavor forward, dark green nutrient density that makes for a versatile blend,” she says. “It's a great salad, but also great in recipes, smoothies, and so much more.”

Rose Blend, meanwhile, is primarily a salad blend. Earthbound Farm has been working with its seed partners for several years to develop multi-leaf varieties to maximize flavor, texture, and efficient harvesting, Fontanilla says.

“Now we’re finally ready to bring them to market. The mix is similar to spring mix but has slightly sturdier leaves with a little crunch and can stand up to many different types of dress. Plus it’s beautiful  with different shades of red, accented with green. And, like all these greens, it’s very nutritious, but with a milder flavor profile.”

Packaging diversity, food safety vigilance

When it comes to the packaging of leafy greens at retail, Growers Express continues to see a move toward portioned products, Strachan says.

The company’s Little Gem Hearts and Romaine Hearts, for example, are packaged in zip-top packages and come portioned. “That makes it easier than ever to grab what you need and save time preparing,” he says.

Consumers continue to migrate away from processed foods and toward whole, fresh, real, organic foods, which they see as “just generally better,” Fontanilla says. They're also looking for ease , flexibility, and great flavor. That puts packaged salads  — especially organic packaged salads — in the sweet spot.

“Beyond product characteristics, consumers want transparency from the producers they're buying from.”  Nathalie Fontanilla, Earthbound Farm.

In addition to being part of the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, Earthbound Farm's multi-pronged food safety program starts in the field and goes all the way through distribution, Fontanilla says.

“We maintain our significant investment in our test-and-hold program, where we are sampling raw product and finished goods and testing those samples for pathogens,” she says. “If evidence of pathogens is found, corresponding product is destroyed. And we often have conversations about food safety with consumers who call or write or post on social.” 

Heading into the New Year, Earthbound Farm is excited about re-energizing its innovation program, Fontanilla says. “We were a little sleepy for a couple of years while we were being managed from Colorado, but now that our leadership is all San Juan Bautista-based folks with produce expertise, it's all systems go again.”