It may be interesting for consumers to know that the government standard for “fresh” with whole poultry and cuts means “never been below 26 °F.” The USDA Food Safety Info’s The Poultry Label Says “Fresh” states that fresh poultry should always bear a ‘keep refrigerated’ statement.”
The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) suggests How to Buy Fresh Vegetables, with established grade standards that are “voluntary in most cases.” But is the AMS verification that fruits and vegetables are handled “to minimize risks of microbial food safety habits” what consumers expect of “fresh?" In a 2014 NGA SupermarketGuru.com Consumer Panel Survey, Focus on Fresh, it was found people see “fresh” as: cleanliness in display, appealing appearance of food, products not past the sale date, locally grown and packaging that gives me a clear view of the product. In lieu of government regulation direct to fresh, consumers may be making their own rules.
Then and Now:
Dr. Roberta Cook, Cooperative Extension Marketing Economist, Dept. of Agricultural and Resource Economics, U.C. Davis explains the increase in fresh availability over a twenty-year period. “In the 90’s and 2000’s, we started to import more and more, either to supplement US production in seasons of short supply or to add to the diversity of the diet. For example, tropical produce, such as mango, papaya, limes, pineapple, plantains, and a great diversity of specialties, such as jicama, tomatillos, cherimoya, hot peppers, and many others, have gained share of stomach. The main point is that in recent decades there’s been an ongoing march toward more variety available for more months of the year.”
Gina Nucci, Director of Healthy Culinary Innovation, Mann Packing Company, sees a lot of growth in snacking products. She highlights sugar snap peas “due to fact that there are not many straight-from-the-bag products you can snack on besides carrots, celery and grape tomatoes.”
Nate Stewart, Hy-Vee, VP Perishables, member of the FMI Fresh Food Executive Council sees frozen seafood gaining ground. “People realize it is very fresh and frozen right where it is caught at sea,” says Stewart. “When you look at sustainability and the effect on earth, customers want to know about what path it took to get the food to my dinner plate and how fresh it is.“ READ INTERVIEW WITH NATE STEWART HERE
According to the United Fresh Produce Association FreshFacts on Retail 2013 Year in Review, “During 2013, each of the top ten organic fruit categories increased dollar sales versus 2012 by double digits. Higher average retail prices and increased volume sales helped generate significant dollar increases.”
“In terms of trends, the roughly 83 million Millennials (16-34 year olds) are part of everybody’s target today; bigger than any age demographic wave that most of us will see,” says Tony Freytag, Senior VP Sales and Marketing, Crunch Pak Sliced Apples/Chairman, United Fresh Produce Association's Fresh-Cut Processor Board. “How we capture that tremendous growth is essential to our future as it’s the fastest growing category.” READ FULL INTERVIEW WITH TONY FREYTAG HERE
At the 2014 Meat Conference, as reported by Supermarket News, “When it comes to prepackaged meat, factors like taste and flavor, ingredients and a lack of preservatives are more important to Millennials than price or the type of meat.” Millennials are looking for a socially responsible angle to their choices in terms of local or organic.
Dr. Roberta Cook speaks of improvements in postharvest technology to assist the growth in fresh produce. “In general, the application of postharvest technology continues to improve and enable us to ship more produce items to more markets with better shelf-life and quality, ultimately all to the benefit of consumers.” READ FULL INTERVIEW WITH DR. ROBERTA COOK HERE
For Mann Packing, ”The biggest pressure is the lead-time being a California-based processor. That is why we are offering regional processing for our East Coast customers,” explains Gina Nucci. “They don’t want to wait for five days. We grow the food here and give them the raw product and they cut it to order as orders come in. It is another layer of customer service. They can fill more orders if demand picks up, or if they have a promotion going, they can fill more orders instead of waiting. Keeping this up will be important.” READ FULL INTERVIEW WITH GINA NUCCI HERE
As “fresh” continues to grow and retailers look at changing lifestyles, consumer trust remains key with the integrity of the product bringing consumers back. For the term “fresh” to stand up to consumer meaning, effective cold chain management and postharvest advances will be fundamental as consumers increasingly expect a high quality diversity of food year round. No doubt we will see consumers demanding a clearer definition of fresh and the transparency that authenticates the claim.