Retail prepared fruit & vegetables: The amazing race
With nearly a dozen teams crisscrossing the globe in search of clues and ultimately, a $1 million prize, CBS’ hit show, “The Amazing Race” is aptly named.
Pardon the play on words but in reality, the premise doesn’t sound too different than life in the frozen fruit and vegetable categories. Here, too, various teams (processors) travel the globe in search of clues (different products, packaging and/or varieties) that will lead them to million-dollar success on the retail shelf.
Information Resources Inc. (IRI) data already show several frozen fruit and vegetable categories with millions of dollars of growth during a 52-week period ended December 30, 2007. Not only did the $1.7 billion plain vegetable category post respective 7.6 and 3.5 percent increases in dollar and unit sales, but mixed vegetables, a $528.3 million segment, rang up 14.7 and 11.7 percent gains. Although its unit takeaway dipped slightly - by 1.6 percent - IRI data show that even frozen fruit posted a 7.6 percent increase in dollar sales to $361.6 million.
IRI also recognized the past year’s top-performing new products and Birds Eye Foods’ Steamfresh frozen vegetables were among the best of the best from 2006 through 2007. When IRI, Chicago, released its “New Product Pacesetters” list this March, Steamfresh finished second among all new food and beverage products, with $87 million in sales (in all food, drug and mass channels, excluding Wal-Mart) during its first full year in distribution.
That led the Rochester, N.Y., company to come back last September with Birds Eye Steamfresh Singles, a three-item line (Sweet Corn, Brussel Sprouts and Sweet Pea varieties) with each package containing four 3.25-oz. single-serve steamer bags.
“The convenient size is ideal for occasions when a smaller amount of vegetables makes more sense,” says Josh Weinstein, senior product brand manager. “There are times when everyone wants a different vegetable to eat at dinner; or healthy vegetables are desired for lunch or as a snack.”
There’s no denying that microwave steam packaging technologies have been a boon to frozen vegetable processors - enhancing product convenience, taste, color and nutrition. Meanwhile, other category competitors are blazing different trails. For example, this January found Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., introducing Morningstar Farms Veggie Cakes and Asian Veggie Patties - new protein-rich options for a meal entrée, side dish or meat portion.
When Refrigerated & Frozen Foods profiled Kellogg last September, Vice President of Marketing Jim Poppens, noted, “We want consumers to see vegetables differently. If you consider our new Veggie Bites (another Morningstar product), there’s really no direct meat comparison there at all and that’s what this is all about - simply providing more healthful options and tastes.”
Last fall also saw General Mills, Minneapolis, introduce Green Giant Giant Bites, a line of baked and lightly breaded veggie-and-sauce portions. Product varieties include Broccoli and Cheese Sauce, Corn and Butter Sauce and Cauliflower with Italian Herb Sauce.
“The nugget shape is unique to the vegetable category,” says spokesperson Pam Becker.
“Giant Bites are part of a continuing effort to provide customers with new and delicious ways to get their vegetables. . . . This product works well as a side dish for casual dinners when vegetables are not usually served or as a snack.”
Are consumers getting the message? The answer is yes, according to at least one recent survey. Researchers for the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) conducted a 2008 Generation X Moms survey (1,000 moms, ages 24 to 41) and nearly all of the respondents said fresh fruits and vegetables are very healthy, followed by frozen fruits and vegetables and 100-percent fruit or vegetable juice. Even during the span of one year, PBH found a “significant jump in the number of moms who now have dried and frozen fruit in their homes.”
Speaking of frozen fruit, category giant Dole Packaged Foods LLC, Westlake Village, Calif., came out last fall with three varieties of Dole Wildly Nutritious Signature Blends - Mixed Berry Antioxidant, Heart Healthy Mixed Fruit and Immunity Blend Tropical Fruit.
“Each individual fruit has its own compelling nutrition story, but when combined into specific blends, they become nutrition powerhouses,” noted Paul Panza, senior business manager for frozen fruit.
Among Dole’s other new offerings are six new organic varieties, billed as Dole Organics.
Elsewhere, Europe’s Best, Montreal, continues to also talk up and build up the category. Already a leader in Canada, the company (recently purchased by The J.M. Smucker Co.) has been extending its U.S. distribution in the East and Southeast.
In an interview last fall, a company spokesman told R&FF, “We want to be the leaders in addressing health issues in the United States and the entire frozen fruit category will benefit. Frozen fruit has only scratched the surface in terms of its development. We believe that it can grow three-fold during the next four to five years.”