With many foods, consumers don’t have a choice between buying something packaged or unpackaged. With fresh fruits and vegetables they do, and the vast majority like to choose their own from bulk bins and displays either all the time or at least some of time.

Nearly half (47%) said they always prefer to pick their own, and another 43% said it depends on what the item is. Just 11% said they always prefer to opt for pre-packaged produce.

The reasons consumers prefer picking their own over buying packaged are many, but two dominate. Fifty-six percent said they like to select particular items, and 45% said they can select fresher and higher-quality items on their own.

Just 18% said they avoid packaged because it’s less environmentally friendly.

In the value-added fresh space, especially with salads and snacks, presentation is everything, says Tal Shoshan, CEO of Ontario, California-based FiveStar Gourmet Foods — and packaging is the star.

“It’s critical that retailers showcase their fresh offerings front and center in a way that consumers are blown away by the product,” he says.

FiveStar does this, he says, by partnering with leading suppliers to bring “green” packaging into the marketplace. The company also designs and patents all packaging used to house its products.

“Compared to our competitors, we are very unique on every level, including packaging innovation,” he says. “For example, we worked with our packaging supplier to develop our unique square bowl with our patented diagonal condiments insert that allows for the toppings to be showcased for the consumer to see the amazing quality.”

Aside from offering a variety of flavors and presentations, FiveStar salads utilize the company’s patented Ultra Fresh Sealed technology, which offers the longest shelf life in the industry without comprising on quality and food safety, Shoshan says.

Growers Express/Green Giant Fresh is also heavily focused on creating value-added packaged products that make it easy for consumers to select, serve and enjoy more fresh vegetables, says Tom Byrne, president of the Salinas, California-based company.

To that end, the company is launching six new Veggie Bowls in single serve packaging, which include a variety of chopped or spiralized vegetables and toppings paired with savory sauces.

“We know we have seconds to make an impression with busy shoppers and use our packaging to quickly communicate key product benefits, including grab-and-go convenience, short microwave prep time, calorie count and inclusion of a fork,” Byrne says. “We also believe in illustrating the flavor potential of vegetables by showcasing them on package with a mix of crunchy and sweet accompaniments.”

Growers Express/Green Giant Fresh continues to experience success with its Vegetable Noodles and first-to-market Cauliflower Crumbles  Chopped Vegetable lines, which the company has expanded with more varieties.

In addition, the company’s Little Gem Lettuce Hearts are popular among consumers experimenting with trends like low-carb or Meatless Monday – they’re a great alternative, Byrne says, to wraps, tortillas and bread.

Environmental concerns are on the cusp of impacting the packaging of fresh fruits and vegetables in a big way, says Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing for Watsonville, California-based California Giant Berry Farms. 

“Packaging is going to be taking center stage very soon with recycling, the lack of recycling and consumer awareness about waste,” she says. “We are working on several fronts to address this emerging issue and look forward to the produce industry making a positive difference in the future to address plastic.”


Sampling for success

If you’re a retailer on the fence about whether or not to try sampling as a way of building customer bases in your fresh perimeter departments, consider this: according to our research, two-thirds of consumers sample items when grocery shopping.

And for more than half of American supermarket shoppers, sampling influences their purchase decisions in bakery, deli/prepared and produce.

Fifty-five percent of instore bakery shoppers say sampling influences their purchase decision, followed by deli/prepared (53%), fresh produce (51%), meat and poultry (44%) and seafood (35%).  

Consumers also told us they wanted to see more sampling of different types of produce. Eighty-five percent, for instance, want more sampling of seasonal produce, 72% want more “unique” samples (e.g. exotic or ethnic items), and 69% would like to sample organic fruits and vegetables more often.

Everyone likes free samples when they’re roaming the grocery perimeter. But some like it more than others.

We found, for example, that shoppers with children are much more inclined to sample while shopping. Nearly eight in ten young, single parents sample while shopping. Nearly three out of four young couples with children do, as do 71% of middle age couples with children.

The most unlikely consumers to sample are young, single Americans without children (60%) and middle age couples without children and older people/empty nesters (both 61%).


Local? Yes, but promote it

American grocery shoppers remain very interested in buying locally grown fruits and vegetables whenever possible, according to our research. But it’s important to draw their attention to it while they’re in the produce department.

Nine out of ten said they’d like stores to carry more locally grown produce, and eight out of ten are influenced by signage indicating that product sold in the department is local.

Signage pointing shoppers to local produce is much more effective than signage for other sub-categories of produce, according to our survey. While eight out of ten are influenced by signs for local, just 53% said they’re influenced by signs for USDA Organic and 48% for Fair Wage fruits and vegetables.


Keeping food safe

Food safety concerns remain top of mind for American consumers, our survey found. More than half of those surveyed are concerned about foodborne illnesses in fresh seafood and meat and poultry departments.

By perimeter department, concern was highest in seafood (54%), followed by meat and poultry (52%), deli/prepared (45%), produce (44%) and bakery (30%).

Almost half of Americans (47%) are concerned about pesticides and pesticide residue in the produce department, and 51% want to see clear information at point-of-sale about where their fruits and vegetables came from.

Our survey also revealed that it can be hard for a specific produce commodity to come back after a major food safety scare.

Eighty-seven percent of consumers remembered the 2018 E. coli outbreak traced to contaminated romaine lettuce. And 37% of them said they stopped buying romaine during the outbreak and have not resumed buying it.


About the research

Cypress Research conducted a national market survey of supermarket shoppers on behalf of Supermarket Perimeter regarding product and fresh department trends.

The nationally representative online survey was conducted with 933* consumers age 18 years and older.

The survey topic was not revealed to potential respondents in email invitations.

Survey fieldwork took place in May 2019.  Respondent selection criteria included:

·         A primary grocery shopper for the household

·         Must shop at supermarkets

·         Must purchase supermarket fresh produce

·         Roughly equal representation by ages 18-34, 35-54, 55+ years

·         Regional representation

*Sampling error for 1,000 surveys is +/- 3% at a 95% confidence level.