It’s not surprising that active people eat more fresh fruits and vegetables than people who don’t exercise much.

What is surprising is how much more they eat. According to the 2019 Supermarket Perimeter Consumer Fresh Food Shopping Trends Study, 90% of fitness enthusiasts (e.g. cross trainers, body builders) eat both fruits and vegetables at least four times a week. Seventy-three percent of people who fall into the healthy/active category eat vegetables that often, 71% of them eat fresh fruit that often.

By contrast, just half of all people our survey categorized as “not particularly active” eat fresh veggies at least four times a week. For fruit, the number is even lower (42%).

“Fitness enthusiasts are some of our best customers,” Cal Giant's Cindy Jewell says. “They know the importance of fueling the body for best performance.” 

Regardless of the demographic breakdown — whether it’s by age, fitness level, family size or a number of other categories — there are many tools available to fresh produce marketers today to help them get their messages across with a laser focus.

“Social media can be effective in reaching different shopper segments,” Kevin Moffitt of the Pear Bureau Northwest says. “Retailers and marketers can develop messaging and geo-targeted adverting to reach consumers of different ages as well as with different messages.”

Packaging also plays a crucial role, he adds. Done right, it allows marketers to design messaging or graphics to reach certain groups, whether it’s reaching fitness or health enthusiasts with a nutrition message or families with kids with back-to-school messaging or popular characters.

Cal Giant does extensive research with its database of followers and Jewell says it’s crucial to “really understand our audience.” 

“We have segmented groups within our audience that are passionate about certain types of recipes and support to build on their produce purchases,” she says. “In some cases we focus on types of eaters vs. demographics.  We have large communities we support that are vegan, gluten free, college moms, etc.”

Each of those groups, she says, likes to be treated differently with different resources, language and timing on communication.

Cal Giant has built an extensive database over the last several years of consumers that follow the company’s brand and love it, Jewell says. 

“We nurture this group as we continue to grow the size of it.  Each time we connect, we learn more about their preferences and their behavior which builds on our market intelligence.”

One area in which consumer research is lacking, she says, is foodservice. Half of the food dollar is spent on foodservice but the industry is not analyzing it as much as it address what happens in the produce department. 

“Food trends begin with foodservice,” Jewell says. “We buy ingredients at the store many times based on what we ate and loved at a restaurant. Look at kale!”

Growers Express/Green Giant Fresh is heavily invested in communicating its brand messages to the the dietitian and fitness communities, Green Giant Fresh's Tom Byrne says.

“Eating trends evolve, but vegetables play a stable role in any lifestyle. Dedicated dietitian and nutrition programs among our retail customers are growing and we regularly showcase our offerings and product samples to those focused on educating consumers at the point of making purchase decisions.”


Freshness and flavor lead the way

Things like price and nutritional value are important drivers in the fresh produce industry, but freshness and flavor reign supreme, according to our study.

Ninety-three percent of Americans say the freshness of their fresh fruits and vegetables is either extremely important or very important to them.

Flavor comes in second at 89%, followed by food safety (88%), appearance (78%), nutrition (78%), wide selection (73%) and price (72%).

For comparison, we also looked at how the drivers for fresh produce compare to drivers for other departments in the grocery fresh perimeter.

Freshness took the top spot in the other four perimeter categories as well: 95% of those surveyed said it was extremely or very important in making their meat and poultry purchase choices, tops in all categories. Seafood and bakery tied with produce at 93%.

Deli/prepared foods was close behind at 91%. Also coming in with 91% for that category were flavor and food safety.

In addition to produce and deli, flavor shares second place with bakery (92%).

In meat and poultry and seafood, however, food safety trumps flavor (93% vs. 91% for meat and poultry, 92% vs. 90% for seafood).

Interestingly, produce is the only perimeter category where nutrition is more important than price. The biggest gap is in bakery (71% say price is extremely or very important, compared to 53% for nutrition), followed by deli/prepared (71% to 67%), meat and poultry (77% to 74%) and seafood (tied at 77%).


An organic surge

Our study also shows that awareness of the perceived benefits of organic produce continues to have a major impact on shoppers.

Sixty-two percent of Americans, for example, feel that organic produce is better for their health, and 41% think that organic fruits and vegetables are worth the extra cost.

Two-thirds of consumers buy organic fruits and vegetables, and 52% are willing to pay more for it.

Organic also fares well when it comes to appearance and perceived shelf life. Nearly one in three of those polled (32%) thinks organic fruits and vegetables look better than conventional produce. Just 9% think it looks worse on average.

And 28% think organic produce stays fresh longer than conventional. Just 17% think it spoils faster.

Last but certainly not least, the shoppers we polled are bullish on organic’s taste. Thirty-nine percent think it tastes better than conventional, and just 3% think it tastes worse.

Consumers are also more interested in having access to organic produce than to organic foods in other grocery perimeter departments.

Half of those we polled said it’s important for supermarkets to offer organic fruits and vegetables. Forty-one percent said the same about meat and poultry, 30% about deli/prepared and 25% about bakery.

“Consumers’ demand for organic fruit has been strong and in most cases is outpacing supply,” Moffitt says. “In the pear industry, the organic production is about 11% of the total production this season.”

Price continues to be a factor limiting demand for organic fruit, he adds. If the price point is less than 10% or 15% compared to conventional produce, demand will continue to go up.

“However, it’s often more expensive to grow organic pears, and yields may not always be as high as conventional pears. Growers need to have an upcharge to make it profitable and to keep them in business.”

Cal Giant also sees increased demand for organic fruit, Jewell says. But that demand is often concentrated in metro areas and on the coasts. Many Americans are primarily focused on adding fresh fruits and vegetables to their diets, regardless of whether or not they’re organic.

“There are still millions of consumers just trying to get fresh produce on their table every day, and organic is not typically part of that equation.”

Traditional marketing plays an outsized role in how consumers shop for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Three out of four Americans say they look for sales in circulars before buying produce, the highest of any of the fresh perimeter categories.

Meat and poultry is second (73%), followed by deli/prepared (61%), bakery (55%) and seafood (49%).

Overall, 80% of those surveyed said they look at supermarket circulars or weekly ads either at home or in the store.

Produce is also tops when it comes to consumers who rely on instore promotional signage to guide their buying decisions in the fresh perimeter.

Seventy-eight percent of produce consumers look for instore signage, followed by meat and poultry (76%), deli/prepared (71%), bakery (68%) and seafood (53%).