The latest quarterly earnings report for Del Monte Fresh Produce, Coral Gables, Florida, revealed a notable jump in fresh-cut fruit sales — indicative of the promise of this fresh convenience category. Del Monte reported third-quarter net sales of $145.3 million for fresh-cut fruit, an increase of 10% over the prior year period.

“Positive trends continue for Fresh Del Monte with a strong financial performance in the third quarter of 2019,” Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh, who has served as Del Monte’s chairman and chief executive officer since 1996 and was instrumental in cementing the company’s role as one of the world’s pre-eminent fresh, fresh-cut and prepared fruit and vegetable producers and distributors, said on an earnings call. “We are emphasizing value-added margin growth in all product lines, generating momentum with global partnerships, introducing trend-forward products, and are opening new state-of-the-art facilities in Mexico and Japan. Our retail store concept in the U.S. will be coming soon.”

Value-added fruit offers such promise for Del Monte that the company plans to open its first fresh food and beverage store in the United States, planned for Coral Gables, during first quarter 2020, Abu-Ghazaleh said on the call. Del Monte opened its first retail store in May 2015 at Abyat in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where the Del Monte Fresh Market features grab-and-go food and beverage options including smoothies and salads.

Looking at the macro picture, a new Nielsen report reveals that the success of “fresh retail superstars” in the US supermarket industry points to the fact that “fresh is the growth engine of the store, as gains in these perimeter departments translate to total store success.” The superstars are succeeding by taking freshness to the next level.

For the most successful retailers, produce (up 2.6% in 52-week sales ended Aug. 24, 2019) and deli (up 4.9%) departments provide the greatest contribution to total perishable sales, according to Nielsen. This debunks the long-standing belief that the meat department contributes the highest impact to the success of the perimeter of the store. It likely reflects, Nielsen reports, consumers’ changing wellness needs, as well as their growing demands for convenience. With more than three-fourths of deli sales coming from random weight items, top fresh retailers have honed a more authentic, ready-made feel.

“Entertaining at home is increasing, and demand for party trays is increasing,” points out Doug Burris, executive vice president of sales and procurement for The Woodlands, Texas-based Fresh Food Group, which offers cut fruit (including sliced apples) under its Country Fresh and Sun Rich companies. “Convenient packaging has caught up to the fresh produce industry, and consumers have more choices now.”

For fresh retail superstars, according to Nielsen, success hasn’t come from necessarily carrying more (or fewer) items, but from having the right items in fresh. Today’s consumers value health-conscious food options, and top performing fresh retailers have responded by featuring nearly three times as many different plant-based offerings as lesser performers — a savvy move, considering nearly 60% of U.S. consumers value dietary balance between animal and plant foods.

It’s important to remember that produce purchasing remains a necessarily tactile, in-person experience for many consumers. Leading fresh retailers understand this and significantly outperform lesser ones in avocados, apples and berries. These produce items are among ones where consumers look or feel to confirm freshness. Consumers crave a destination, not just a store to stock up. Experience, personalization and convenience win. In fact, foodservice offerings are up 10% in sales year over year, Nielsen reports.


A smorgasbord of choices

Walking the exhibit floor of the Produce Marketing Association’s 2019 Fresh Summit convention and expo, the variety of fresh-cut fruit options available to today’s retailers proved impressive. Pears, mangoes and even jackfruit were among the new value-added fruit options on display at exhibitor booths.

Crunch Pak, a sliced apple specialist based in Cashmere, Washington, introduced fresh sliced, peeled and diced pears. The value-added pears, available in 7-ounce and 32-ounce packages for foodservice customers initially, are made from Anjou and Bartlett varieties. Slicing pears was an original goal of Crunch Pak when the company started in 2000, but the technology didn’t exist to achieve the consistency that consumers wanted, so the company kept working to make sure it got it right, says Tony Freytag, executive vice president and co-founder.

“We made a commitment to develop value-added pears many years ago to our growers and customers,” Freytag says. “Our location, relative to where the majority of the country’s pears are grown, makes us literally neighbors with orchardists and their crops. The countless hours of research and development that was put into the project and the overall commitment of the company to creating this proprietary technology is to be heralded.”

Mott’s Sliced Dippers, available from Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based Robinson Fresh, come in two varieties: sweet apples with caramel dipping sauce and tart apples with salted caramel dipping sauce.

Prima Fresh-Cut, Fresno, California, introduced yellow sliced peaches, along with sliced nectarines, sliced pears and sliced apples. Convenient attention-grabbing packaging includes 12-ounce family pack, 24-ounce, 2-ounce snack packs and 3-ounce single serve packs. These convenient sliced fruits are a fresh new option for instore foodservice counters as well.

The Ready Snax line of fresh-cut snack packs from Ready Pac Foods, part of Bonduelle Fresh Americas, Irwindale, California, continues to grow. Options now include apples with low-fat caramel dip and cheddar cheese; apples with low-fat vanilla yogurt and trail mix; apples, grapes and cheddar cheese with flatbread; and carrots, grapes and pretzels with cheddar cheese.

Of further note, Bonduelle Fresh Americas announced in a press release that the company has set comprehensive goals for 2025 to transition to a packaging portfolio that is 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable, as well as to reduce virgin plastic inputs by an average of 25%. Numerous studies show that commitment to the environment is a key concern among today’s grocery shoppers, who will look to be more brand loyal to companies that share their commitment to reducing environmental impacts.

“We are excited to launch this comprehensive strategy at Bounduelle Fresh Americas, covering issues from water use and packaging to human rights and labor,” says Mathew Caldwell, senior manager of CSR for Bonduelle Fresh Americas. “We are prioritizing the right issues, committing ourselves to improving in these areas and engaging all stockholders in these actions — employees, customers, consumers, communities and suppliers.”


The One and Only

New from Yuba City, California-based Sunsweet Growers, individually wrapped Ones Amaz!n Prunes are moist, juicy and full of nutritious goodness. They are packaged for convenience, so shoppers can pop a few into their car, purse or lunch. Sunsweet’s Ones are available in 6-ounce canisters and 12-ounce value packs.

Earlier this year, Sunsweet launched a new brand campaign, #ToFeelGood, that integrates multiple media channels and reflects the zest for life shared by consumers of Sunsweet Amaz!n Prunes. Sunsweet's new #ToFeelGood campaign looks to infuse positive reinforcement into the healthy habits consumers already employ, while crowdsourcing to inspire others with new ideas. Sunsweet recognizes that people are already taking small actions every day to improve their lives, and that celebrating and sharing these tips helps promote conversation and engagement with the brand.

"We want to encourage people to appreciate the steps they are already taking to feel good in their everyday lives, and to share those tips so that others may be inspired to do the same," says Stephanie Harralson, director of marketing, North America, at Sunsweet.