Marketing to kids directly is one way companies are attempting to reach new consumers.
Photo: Cassie Neiden

1. Ugly produce is here and big box stores are involved.

Misshapen or bruised produce has historically been sent to landfills instead of grocery stores because it failed to meet aesthetic standards. But over the past year, this ugly produce has become a trendy item for some retailers. In California and New York City, select Whole Foods locations started offering ugly produce for the first time. Walmart, one of America’s biggest retailers, also began selling dented apples in five-pound bags at 300 of their Florida locations.

As a bonus, a recent study by a Virginia grower indicated that ugly produce may pack added nutritional benefits.

2. Locally grown food and farmers markets continue to grow in popularity.

In November 2016, Walmart announced that, in an effort to court more Millennial consumers, it would start selling more locally grown produce. The retail giant’s change in strategy was part of a bigger 2016 trend: More and more people are buying local, whether it’s at farm stands, farmers markets or at local grocery stores.

And locally grown food is already big business. Per a National Agriculture Statistics Service study, U.S. consumers spent $8.7 billion on locally grown produce in 2015. That number is only expected to rise in the coming years.

3. Consumers are still interested in organics.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) survey from July 2016 indicated that there are 21,781 organic operations in the U.S. and 31,160 more worldwide. Since organic data started being collected in 2002, the number of organic growers in the U.S. has risen by 300 percent. In the U.S. alone, the organic market is valued at over $39 billion, per the USDA.

Tom Vilsack, the Agriculture Secretary under President Barack Obama, said in 2016 that “Organic food is one of the fasting growing segments of American agriculture.” If recent data holds, that may continue to be true.

4. SNAP is becoming widely embraced.

SNAP — short for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — offers access to healthy food for eligible low-income individuals across the U.S. It’s also the government’s largest program directly fighting hunger, per the USDA.

In 2016, SNAP was accepted by a number of alternative retailers for the first time, including some online stores and an increasing number of farmers markets. And with Amazon now testing out food stamps as part of a pilot program, access to fresh food may become even easier for those relying on SNAP.

5. Millennials eat out more and spend less on groceries.

A November 2016 story in The Atlantic noted that younger Americans are taking significantly fewer trips to the grocery store than Baby Boomers. With more shopping options, many Millennials no longer see the need to shop exclusively at supermarkets.

At the same time, 20-and-30 somethings, on average, spent almost $3,000 eating out in 2014, per USDA expenditure data. In short: Young people are still spending money on food, but they are doing it differently.

6. Kids have become a key audience for produce.

Getting kids to eat vegetables has long been a hard problem to solve. Everyone agrees that eating vegetables is important, but a six-year-old probably isn’t going to be as excited about eating broccoli or tomatoes as they would be ice cream or cake.

As result, many businesses spent 2016 exploring alternative methods for marketing produce to kids. Ideas have included growing kid-sized produce, using cartoon-type characters as ambassadors and focusing marketing efforts on parents instead of kids.

For more on this trend, read Leslie Halleck’s story, “Shrink-to-fit marketing for children,” in the December 2016 issue of Produce Grower atbit.ly/2hFrsBm

7. Veggies are replacing meat at the dinner table.

A 2015 study by the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) indicated that 36 percent of Americans eat vegetarian meals on a regular basis. In 2016, meatless options became more and more prevalent in restaurants, as more and more chefs are replacing meat with vegetables. No longer are good, delicious vegetarian and vegan options few and far between.

For more on how produce is pushing meat off the dinner table, read Leslie Halleck’s story, “Produce, repurposed,” from the February 2017 issue of Produce Grower at bit.ly/2kxkeo2

8. New markets, and crops, are being explored.

2016 saw more producers consider different markets for their produce. As a result, more research is being done to identify new markets.

One study from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Extension (UF/IFAS) indicated that Asian vegetables could be a boon for producers, particularly those in the southeast in the right climate for Asian varieties of eggplant, gourds and other crops.

“A lot of these vegetables are going to need to be sold in large urban centers to buyers that are maybe different than what growers are used to,” said Gene McAvoy, a county extension manager at UF/IFAS. “And the volumes have to be scaled to the size of the market.”

For more on new markets, read Consumer Corner in the February 2017 issue of Produce Grower at bit.ly/2krErtD

9. Food safety is on everyone’s mind.

With October 2017 compliance dates for Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) on the horizon, growers are thinking about food safety. Dr. Bob Whitaker, the Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) Chief Science Officer, talked about food safety at 2016’s Fresh Summit and stressed its importance as the world’s population continues to ruse.

“We want them to consume fruits and vegetables,” Whitaker said in his presentation. “We can’t grow consumption if people are concerned about safety.”

New packaging methods may keep produce fresher longer and improve food quality.
Photo: Cassie Neiden

10. Grocery store alternatives are on the rise.

Amazon was on the forefront of offering consumers supermarket alternatives in 2016. The online seller already offers AmazonFresh, a service that delivers groceries directly to people’s homes in select markets for $299 a year or $14.99 a month for Amazon Prime users. Additionally, Amazon is in the early stages of testing out its own grocery store concept called Amazon Go that doesn’t require checking out with a cashier. Instead, a customer can go into the store, pick out what they want and walk out with sensors attached to the shelves tracking what is taken off the self and then charging your Amazon account for the items purchased.

Additionally, meal delivery services like HelloFresh and Blue Apron are delivering meals featuring locally sourced produce directly to people’s home. With a recent study indicating that online grocery sales could hit $100 billion by 2025, don’t expect the number of grocery store alternatives to drop anytime soon.

11. Packaging is modernizing.

At 2016’s PMA Fresh Summit, packaging options beyond the classical clamshell or bag were on full display. Some of the new choices reduce waste by using less plastic and may even be able to keep produce fresher longer. To some, packaging is more important than the produce.

For more on 2016’s Fresh Summit, read “4 takeaways from PMA’s 2016 Fresh Summit” from the December 2016 issue of Produce Grower at bit.ly/2hKancB