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Insider View: March 2016

Insider View: March 2016

………but poses some interesting challenges for retailers as they tread the delicate balance between maintaining quality & supply while minimising waste.

Fresh produce is enjoying a quiet revolution; with increased overall spend as a result of greater purchase frequency and higher average shelf prices. The trend towards ‘clean eating’ and less processed food is fuelling demand in whole and prepared produce. Tesco recently reported an increase in organic produce sales, up by more than 18% in the past year, with notable growth in speciality varieties. The IRI[i] reported that in the year to January 2nd there was a 31% increase in spend on avocadoes, with soft fruit sales up by 12.2% at just over £1billion.  As well as soaring sales of Spinach (up 21%) and Kale, the latest green ‘super food’ being trialled by Asda is Sliced Broccoli Leaves, due to roll out on the 8th June.  With growth comes challenge and maintaining consistency in quality is a difficult task for retailers in the light of increasing demand for a wider range of fruit and vegetables available throughout the year and the need to minimise any damage in transit as more choose to buy on-line.

While consumers make allowances when buying fruit and vegetables out of season (strawberries are a classic case in point), they still demand consistency and optimum freshness, which poses a difficult challenge for retailers who have to maintain quality standards in every region, often across a range of suppliers.  Sustaining quality to end of shelf life is another hurdle and our research has demonstrated that consumers will be more forgiving for certain produce, making allowance for storage conditions, but will be far more demanding at fixture, critical of any produce that looks like it won’t last, indicated by marked or wrinkled skin, or any that feel soft/ over-ripe. Then there is the issue of food waste, which has generated a direct response by retailers. As well as advances in fresh produce packaging, such as making labels change colour as products become more ripe and treating vegetables with salt spray  before packing, many retailers have opted to sell ugly fruit and vegetables that would previously have been thrown away or fed to animals. Asda’s successful trial of ‘wonky veg boxes’ has led to a roll out in 128 stores,  after selling more than 650 tonnes of product that would otherwise have been rejected. Morrison’s has also relaxed some of their rejection rules,  whilst Waitrose launched its new range of ‘A Little Less than Perfect’ brand, quickly followed by Tesco’s ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ label (initially focussed on Potatoes and Parsnips), available in 200 larger stores from March. This is touted as a win-win situation for consumers, retailers and farmers. What impact all of this uglier fruit will have on the general perception of the produce aisle remains to be seen, but it is clear that fresh produce remains, quite rightly, at the heart of any future retailer strategy.

Cambridge MR offers a wide range of consumer research services in Fresh Produce from depot to dustbin.  Contact Steve Lawrence on 01223 492050 to find out more.

  • Asda continues to introduce its customers to new varieties through its Grower’s Selection. Check out the response to the Honey Crunch Apples, 42, a sweet, crisp variety with strong fixture appeal (Review 160335). While the Pak Choi may need some promoting as interest in buying rose sharply after tasting (Review 160342).
  • Young’s reinforced its position as brand leaders in the crumbed fish category with its new Cod Fillet Strips flavoured with just the right amount of sweet chilli in the coating (Review 160304)
  • Muller continues to work its magic in the yogurt sector with their latest Hawaiian Dream Corner adding a tropical twist, 50 (Review 160333)
  • Waitrose successfully extends Tartare Sauce into the chiller (Review 160341)
  • Meanwhile unusual drinks still struggle, with Alpro’s Provamel Organic Bio Cashew Milk a step too far: (Review 160314) and Clearspring’s Organic Japanese Genmaicha tea may have been a 2014 Great Taste winner but the inclusion of brown rice to tea remained incomprehensible to most UK tea drinkers (Review 160348).

[i] As reported in The Times 29/02/2015

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