BY MINDY HERMANN, Produce Business
Consumer changes continue to reshape the produce industry. Although overall fruit and vegetable purchasing, including canned and frozen, is flat, both fresh fruits and fresh vegetables are trending upward. Apples and oranges currently are the most consumed fruits; potatoes, tomatoes and onions lead in vegetable. Dr. Ben Campbell, assistant professor and extension economist at the University of Georgia, noted these trends will be influenced in coming years by U.S. population shifts toward urban areas in the south and east, and away from the Midwest. Increased diversity also will impact demand.
The high consumption of fruits and vegetables by particular ethnic groups will need to be met with supply. The SKUs carried by particular stores should reflect cultural preferences for region or country of origin, sizes or varieties — Asian versus European eggplant, for example. Campbell noted that stocking the wrong size or variety could reduce sales and increase waste. Shoppers also demonstrate expectations regarding appearance; produce that looks perfect might be perceived as being overtreated with chemicals.
Shifts in ethnic populations can portend future trends. Retailers need to consider not only which varieties to carry, but also the name they assign to each item, as many fruits and vegetables have different names in different cultures. Ethnic groups often demonstrate distinct preferences for store type — supermarket, small store, ethnic grocer, and/or farmers market. Some groups are more willing to travel further to a specialty grocer. Others living in urban areas without access to a car may purchase smaller amounts more often. Many shoppers are interested in trying specialty or ethnic produce items that they have never eaten. Demonstrations, tastings, recipes and usage tips could motivate consumers to cross cultures when purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables.
Consumers fear GMOs, thinking they are not safe, and welcome labeling efforts. They value freshness and safety first, followed by price and other features.