Fresh-cut produce, packaged in all forms, continues to be a popular choice for today's busy shoppers who are looking for healthy, on-the-go options for themselves and their family.

Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce, N.A., Inc., Coral Gables, Florida, says as consumers develop more sophisticated tastes, and as trends and interest in new tropical fruits continue to grow, fresh-cut varieties such as mango, pineapple, papaya and kiwifruit are essential to the produce department.

"We are focusing on opportunities to meet consumer demand for fresh-cut exotic fruits and other innovative fresh-cut offerings," he says. "We're expanding our line to include more fresh-cut items featuring dips and dressings to provide other opportunities to introduce consumers to new options when looking for healthy, flavorful snacks."

Del Monte gold extra-sweet pineapple is the company's No. 1 fresh-cut produce seller, Christou says. "We offer various cuts, including cylinders, spears, chunks, wedges and more, in a multitude of sizes and fruit medleys," he says.

In addition, Christou says fresh-cut mango and watermelon are extremely popular.

The top-selling fresh-cut items for Mann Packing, Salinas, California, which is now part of the Del Monte Fresh Produce family, are broccoli, cauliflower and sugar snap peas, says Loree Dowse, director of creative marketing.

Mann Packing started the year by introducing two items to its Nourish Bowls Breakfast line —  Denver Scramble (includes cauliflower, broccoli, sweet potato and kale) and Fiesta Scramble (includes kohlrabi, cauliflower, butternut squash and kale) —  which have quickly become two of the best-selling SKUs in its bowl line-up, Dowse says.

The company also recently announced it will begin shipping Caulilini baby cauliflower to its retail customers in a 10-ounce pack, which previously was only available to foodservice customers.

Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications for Dole Food Co. Inc., Westlake Village, California, says Dole continues to be the leader in salad kits, with a 29.7% share of the category, according to Nielsen (52 weeks ending 5/25/19).

"From traditional Caesar kits to chopped salad kits to Slawesome! kits to the new Bountiful kits, Dole provides the widest variety of salad kit choices for consumers," he says.

Bonduelle Fresh Americas, Irwindale, California, produces fresh prepared meal solutions such as salad kits and bowls, salad blends and value-added produce for retail and foodservice.

"We work with a wide variety of produce, including leafy greens, baby greens, spinach, cabbage, carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes, onions and more," says Sharon Valle, senior manager of corporate communications.

Bonduelle Fresh Americas also markets Ready Pac Foods Bistro Bowls, which deliver restaurant-inspired, ready-to-eat salads packed full of nutrients, proteins and fresh ingredients, Valle says. Best-selling bowls are Caesar, Santa Fe Style, Chef, Turkey & Bacon Cobb and Spinach Dijon, Valle says.


Fresh-cut trends

As a category, value-added vegetables are seeing strong growth, with a 6.6% increase in dollar sales versus last year (IRI MULO, 52 weeks ending 10/7/18), says Dowse of Mann Packing.

"Millennial consumers in particular are looking to minimize time spent preparing food while also making healthful choices," she says. "We have found that they are among the core consumers of value-added produce items, according to 'FMI - Power of Produce 2019.'"

Doug Burris, executive vice president of sales and marketing for The Fresh Food Group, The Woodlands, Texas, says demand is high for products that add to the convenience value proposition.

"Consequently, fresh cut/value-added produce is moving farther down the processing continuum," he says. "Our goal is to get product as close to the final state as possible by making it as convenient as possible. This requires continued investment in R&D, cooking technologies, and packaging design."

One ongoing trend affecting fresh-cut produce is "flexitarianism," the growing semi-vegetarian trend that replaces animal-based protein with varying degrees of fruits and vegetables, says Goldfield of Dole.

"A move toward a partial plant-based diet is increasingly popular year-round, and often peaks in August and the fall when families return to more of a routine," he says.

To leverage flexitarianism, Dole works with retailers to implement innovative marketing and in-store programs to drive incremental produce sales, including fresh-cut produce and packaged salad, Goldfield says. Dole's new Bountiful kits work well as a center-of-the-plate salad, he adds, as each includes a fresh pouch of vegetables in addition to salad greens and a complementary dressing.

However, while there's a big movement toward plant-based diets, Valle of Bonduelle Fresh Americas says more than 50% of U.S. consumers say a meal isn't complete without meat, according to a 2018 Mintel study.

"In response to this, we've always looked to balance our offerings," she says. "In fact, our new Heat and Eat Harvest Bowls, introduced under the Bonduelle brand, are a mix of fresh vegetables, meats, nutritional grains and flavorful sauces. This complete meal solution satisfies the consumer's need for quicker, easier and healthier meal that includes both vegetables and proteins."


Value-added promotions

Fresh-cut produce pairs well with any type of dip that retailers can cross-promote with, Christou of Del Monte says, including hummus, salad dressings, yogurts and cottage cheese.

"We also recommend placing fresh-cut vegetables near the meat department to encourage consumers to incorporate fresh produce in their meals," he says. "For example, our fresh-cut kabob kits or fajita kits help make preparing and cooking meals easier for consumers."

Valle of Bonduelle Fresh Americas says the company typically approach marketing across a consumer's path to purchase, which includes awareness building campaigns (focusing on digital and social media —  Facebook and Instagram) all the way to in-store with shopper programs and coupons.

"At the store level, we know it is critical to disrupt consumers to get them to purchase our great tasting salads," she says. "We rely on retailers for in-store activations, and work with them on pricing promotions —  either intro pricing or buying multiple items at a discounted price. The store activations that work for our category are in-line POS, blades and couponing."

Valle recommends cross-promotions with water or other healthy beverages as interesting options to increase sales.

For the remainder of the year, Dole will be combining a series of original entree, side dish, salad, snack, smoothie and dessert recipes celebrating Disney's "The Lion King" and "Frozen 2" including for holidays, families with kids, and vegan and gluten-free consumers, says Goldfield.


Fresh displays

Placing fresh-cut fruit in visible, well-lit coolers and maintaining proper temperatures from delivery to shelf is essential to increase sales, says Christou of Del Monte.

"Consumers view fresh-cut items as a timesaving solution to their fast-paced lifestyles," he says. "The ability to enjoy Del Monte fresh fruits without the hassle of cutting and cleaning motivates fresh-cut purchases."

Bonduelle Fresh Americas has implemented a racking model to merchandise its products upright on pushers, Valle says, allowing for great visibility of products to shop the range of flavors offered.

Finally, Burris of The Fresh Food Group says smart retailers are investing heavily in perimeter departments, as fresh categories are merging and sometimes undefined.

"Fresh-cut is expanding beyond produce and into other departments, such as deli," he says. "Moreover, consumer tastes and trends change rapidly. As a result, fresh-cut partners must be agile to quickly adapt to an ever-changing ecosystem. Fresh-cut products and packaging must also be geared toward omnichannel shopping with the rise of e-commerce, delivery and online grocery pickup."