With countless unhealthy food choices bombarding them daily, a huge number of Americans still make the right choice when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables.
About two out of five consumers we surveyed for our 2019 Supermarket Perimeter Consumer Fresh Food Perimeter Shopping Trends Study said they eat both fresh fruits and fresh vegetables just about every day.
Another 25% eat fresh fruit four or five days a week, and 28% one to three days a week. By contrast, just 8% of Americans say they eat fresh fruit less than one day a week. Only 1% say they never eat it.
Twenty-six percent of Americans eat fresh vegetables four or five days a week, another 26% eat them one to three days a week, 6% eat them less than once a week and 1% say they never eat fresh vegetables.
Berries are among the fresh fruit that consumers are eating more and more of every year, says Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing for Watsonville, California-based California Giant.
“I think the fact that berries continue to increase in consumption is always a good sign,” she says. “We do see strawberries losing a little ground to other berry types over the past few years as blueberries specifically grow in numbers, but that is not a negative.”
More often than not these days, she adds, berry companies grow and ship the entire berry category. Cal Giant and others see it as a positive that bush berries are seeing increases each year in popularity.
Room to grow
While much consumption data is encouraging, other industry members say there’s still a way to go.
“Consumption of fruit in the U.S. is below the recommended daily consumption,” says Kevin Moffitt, president and CEO of the Milwaukie, Oregon-based Pear Bureau Northwest. “Likewise, fresh pear consumption is not where we would like it to be.”
When it comes to pears, lighter crops the past several years haven’t helped, Moffitt says. And all fruits must struggle to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace. All of that variety is great for consumers, but it can be a challenge for marketers.
“The fact is, there is a lot of produce in a modern retailer today vying for the consumer’s attention,” Moffitt says.
The good news is, there’s plenty of room for growth. Especially with technology that helps ensure fruit is ready to eat as soon as shoppers take it home.
“With fewer than 50% of U.S. households ever buying pears in a year, there is a lot of upside,” Moffitt says. “The biggest opportunity is getting riper fruit into the hands of consumers. Our industry is embracing conditioning pears with ethylene to trigger ripening, getting riper fruit on the shelves. Consumers want to eat their pears within one to three days of purchase.”
Another huge opportunity for pear marketers, Moffitt adds, is in the value-added category. “Cut fruit has a lot of potential, including fresh sliced pears, but they need to have a flavor profile to bring consumers back for more. A ripe, sweet and juicy pear can distinguish itself in the produce department.”
Different occasions, different choices
Some occasions are more conducive to fresh fruit consumption than others, our survey found.
Snacking is the clear No. 1 choice. Nearly eight in 10 Americans eat fresh fruit as a snack. In second place is breakfast (58%), followed by lunch (41%).
Consumers are less likely to consume fresh fruits via smoothies or freshly squeezed juices or with dinner, but both of those occasions still polled fairly well — 27% for smoothies/juices, 26% for dinner.
When it comes to vegetables, dinner is the clear winner. More than 9 in 10 people (91%) make fresh vegetables a part of their dinner plans. Fifty-four percent eat vegetables with lunch, 29% as a snack, 16% with breakfast and 10% in a smoothie or freshly squeezed juice.
Moffitt agrees that breakfast and snacking are the two top occasions for eating fresh fruit. As the snacking trend grows, there will be more opportunities for fresh pear marketers to take advantage, he says. Dinner, lunch and other occasions also have growth potential in the category.
“Think pears on sandwiches, pear sauces for fish or poultry. Smoothies and dessert will continue to have growth for fruit and pears in general.”
Sometimes it can be hard to square what consumers say about when they eat fresh produce with their actual behavior, Jewell says.
“It’s funny – our consumer insights tell us that they want more recipe inspiration for savory and main dish recipes, but actions tell us that berries still are used primarily in snacks, desserts and simple recipe enhancements where they can simply be tossed for added flavor, color and indulgence.”
Breakfast smoothies, bowls and wraps are part of that mix with berries making breakfast easy, she adds — especially as kids head back to school.
Regardless of the daypart, Salinas, California-based Growers Express/Green Giant Fresh’s new Veggie Bowls product is a perfect fit, says Tom Byrne, the company’s president.
“The Sante Fe and Fried Rice bowl varieties include the suggestion for the consumer to add an egg, which makes them a great breakfast option. Beyond lunch, we also see consumers reaching for Veggie Bowls at dinner time as a quick and hearty solution for weeknight meal preparation,” Byrne says.
The young shall lead them
Levels of fruit consumption vary by age, but whether or not consumers have children is the clear differentiator, according to our survey.
The four demographic groups that included children living at home are also the four top consumers of fresh fruit.
Leading the way are middle age single people with children. More than three out of four of them (76%) eat fresh fruit at least four times a week.
Following closely behind are young single people with children (72%), young couples with children (70%) and middle age couples with children (68%).
Vegetables notch even higher numbers, at least among middle age parents. Seventy-eight percent of single middle age parents eat fresh vegetables at least four times a week. Seventy-seven percent of middle age parents and 68% each of young couples and young singles with kids do so.
Empty nesters and people who don’t have kids are much less likely to eat fresh fruit four or more times a week. Sixty-two percent of middle age single people do, 58% of middle age couples, 56% of young single people, 55% of older people and empty nesters and 52% of young couples.
Among childless consumers, however, it’s middle age couples that stand out when it comes to fresh vegetable consumption. More than two out of three (67%) eat four or more servings per week. Sixty-three percent of young couples, 62% of middle age single people, 58% of young single people and 56% of empty nesters do so.