NASHVILLE, TN — Today, the Southeast Produce Council (SEPC) BB #:191194 what’s new From a consumer perspective 2022 in one of two training sessions at its fall Southern Innovations show.
“Only 12% of consumers are getting the daily recommended amount of fresh produce,” said David Sherrod, President and CEO of SEPC. “That means there is a lot of room for growth. We looked at how technology and innovation on the farm, in store, on the menu and for the planet can help consumers increase their consumption of fresh produce. Exhibitors were encouraged to innovate in each section and What’s New? Silent Theater presentations have been held during exhibition times by pioneering organizations.
The key findings for each of the four sections of research are as follows.
On the farm
A majority of consumers (74%) do not know how growers use technology, but four in ten are interested in virtual field, farm or greenhouse visits. In addition, half of consumers like the idea of mini greenhouses in shops or restaurants. This is because 55% of consumers want to know more about how the fresh produce they buy is grown. According to consumers, the most important communication channels are the packaging label (57%), information on the brand’s website or app (47%) and in-store signage (42%).
“Importantly, the study found that innovation can help drive revenue growth,” said Sherrod. “More than half of consumers are interested in new varieties.”
New mixed varieties and new sizes such as cauliflower in a portion or mini avocados are attracting great interest. Additionally, 46% of consumers are intrigued by the idea of improved functional benefits for fresh fruit and vegetables, such as extra vitamin C, longer shelf life or onions that are tear-resistant. “Boomers are a lot more likely to think this is a bit of sci-fi, but 54% of Gen Z, who grew up in a world of packaging claims and cues, like the idea,” Sherrod noted.
In the shop
“The study found that the competition for fresh produce is much, much greater than for frozen and canned produce,” noted Sherrod. “Nutritional supplements, smoothies, squeeze bags, shots and center store products that advertise plant-based are all taking a bite out of fresh produce sales.” Sherrod is referring to the 81% of consumers who believe that these type of products can help them reach the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.
Serving size education is of general interest to 50% of consumers, and 42% like the idea of their grocery store offering personalized nutrition programs. In addition to serving size guidance, consumers want to see nutritional information, specific health benefits, provenance, and preparation/storage instructions.
Consumers also firmly believe in the link between fresh produce and their own health. While awareness of prescription products is low at 20%, 53% believe fresh produce can help manage health issues.
Promotions remain very important as in-store signage, apps and the digital newsletter have replaced paper display as the top area of research. Routine meals are out and consumers are looking to a variety of sources for recipe and meal ideas, including a keen interest in recipe shopping (46%).
On the menu
High inflation is putting pressure on dining out, causing 52% of consumers to change their orders when shopping at restaurants, be it takeout, delivery or eat-in. 60% look for cheaper items on the menu, 54% skip dessert, 44% skip appetizers and 44% go to a cheaper restaurant overall.
Consumers also expressed strong interest in a range of ways to boost consumption of fresh produce in restaurants: 71% are interested in visiting the salad bar to complement an entree; 65% would like to see drinks/smoothies with fresh fruit/vegetables on the menu; 63% are interested in fresh fruit as an option for dessert or as an appetizer; and 60% like the idea of being able to substitute vegetables for traditional carbohydrates like pasta or rice.
“The study also revealed consumer interest in applying retail trends to restaurant menus,” noted Sherrod. “Seasonal and local fruit and vegetables are the most interesting areas in retail and also top the list of desired menu attributes for foodservice.” Yet in today’s inflationary environment, 49% of consumers believe that the best cost and the best Quality should be a restaurant’s priority – and provenance, including global sourcing, should be disregarded. Consumer approval of restaurants using fresh versus frozen or canned food is much higher at 72%. And 54% would like to see more unique fresh produce on the menu.
The use of technology to order and pay for food in restaurants is becoming much more accepted, but the idea of robots bringing the food instead of a server is far from a slam dunk with consumers: 31% just can’t imagine the concept and 26% say they couldn’t stand the idea.
For the planet
Four in 10 Americans struggle with fruits and vegetables going bad before they can eat them, and 91% end up throwing out some fresh produce. Additionally, 37% struggle with fresh produce being sold in packaging that is too big for their budget.
“With food waste at home being a clear concern, 46% of Americans love the idea of different preservation technologies,” Sherrod said. “Consumers want to know more about the implications for food safety, nutrition and taste, but are excited about solutions.”
Consumers say commitments to limit food and packaging waste, give back to the community and support causes are important and can impact purchases for just over half. While quality and freshness are the most important buying factors for boomers, sustainability is the most important factor for 35% of Generation Z. Still, at most 16% of consumers remember manufacturer brands that have been involved in these areas.
“In reality, virtually every product brand and retailer has sustainability commitments,” Sherrod said. “But consumers are not aware of this. We have the opportunity to do good while building positive sentiment among consumers.”
The online study of 1,500 consumers was conducted and presented by 210 Analytics. The study was conducted in July 2022.
About Southeast Produce Council
The Southeast Produce Council (SEPC) is a member-driven, not-for-profit association of more than 3,000 executives from all facets of the fruit and vegetable industry. It was founded more than 20 years ago to advance the value of fresh fruits and vegetables in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia through networking, innovation, community and education. Today, SEPC is a thriving organization that continues to share and pursue its vision, mission, values and goals. Learn more at www.seproducecouncil.com.