In the post-COVID world, consumers want their fresh produce in packaging where it hasn’t been touched while on the store shelf, said Crystal Chavez, marketing coordinator of Santa Maria, Calif.-based Gold Coast Packing.

“Less plastic was the way before COVID, to be more sustainable,” Chavez said. “While we are all aiming to be more sustainable, the conversation of too much packaging in produce has changed.”

Yes, Americans are still committed to using less plastic (or at least say they are). But a health scare as serious as COVID shakes people to the core, and makes them put health first.

Health first, but convenience is a close second — another reason for the huge surge in demand for packaged produce, Chavez said.

“The advantage of packaged produce is that it’s washed, cut or trimmed and ready to be eaten straight out of the bag or added to your favorite recipe,” she said. “All of the work is done for the consumer, which cuts down on prep time.”

Value-added packaged produce also allows consumers to see the quality of the product they’re purchasing.

When you buy a head of broccoli, you can’t see if there are any quality issues until you take it home and cut into it. When it’s pre-cut, pre-washed and packaged, Chavez said, you’re able to see the great condition the product is in, with no surprises.

“Packaged produce also offers more variety. A mix of veggies in one package, like our Garden Blend, is easier than buying three different bulk items.”

The surge in demand for packaged produce can be seen in the many recent additions to Gold Coast’s product lineup, which has historically been strongest in broccoli florets, cauliflower florets and organic baby spinach — still the company’s top sellers.

“We’ve done broccoli florets, cauliflower florets and baby spinach for years, and in mid-2020 we added more to our 2-pound retail line,” Chavez said. “We now offer broccoli florets, cauliflower florets, brussels sprouts, broccoli slaw, Garden Blend (a blend of cauliflower, broccoli and baby carrots) and broccoli and cauliflower blend, all in 2-pound packs.”

After the launch of the additional items, Gold Coast’s customers asked the company to extend its retail line to also include smaller packs. The result: in 2021, Gold Coast added 12-ounce versions of all of its 2-pound packs. It also added a new riced cauliflower offering, Caulifornia Snow.