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Consumer choices changing in the fresh produce markets

April 28, 2014 | 0 comments


Bananas, apples and grapes rated as the top three choices in consumer purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables, but other foods in the top 20 continue to change places, according to a consumer survey taken in October of 2013.

That survey obtained 1,002 responses, of which 51 percent were from men, according to a webinar sponsored by Produce Retailer and The Packer magazines and the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

Survey respondents identified with 18 different apple varieties, with Red Delicious still being the most popular at 19 percent but down from 22 percent in the previous survey, according to Greg Johnson, editor of The Packer. He was surprised that Gala and Fuji apples had not moved higher than to 12 percent each on the variety list.

Granny Smith apples also held a 12-percent share of the market. Moving up to an 8-percent share was Honeycrisp, which is popular at the Colorado-based Lucky's Markets, according to produce director Patrick Mills.

Apples are purchased at least once a year by 82 percent of the survey participants, while grapes are purchased by 70 percent, the data showed. Johnson commented this is true for grapes despite their inclusion in the "Dirty Dozen" fresh produce group — for possible pesticide contamination — by the Environmental Working Group.

Berry patch

Four types of berries are in the top 20, led by the fourth-place strawberries, which are popular as a family fresh fruit, Johnson said. Strawberries and grapes often shift positions in the survey results.

Blueberries hold the eighth spot, being popular with the more affluent and organic buyers, he noted.

Raspberries, which stand in 17th place, also appeal mainly to higher-income consumers, while the 18th place blackberries are popular in the organic market.

Position changes

Broccoli moved up to sixth place from ninth in the survey, which has been conducted for 31 years. Broccoli was purchased at least once a year by 58 percent of the survey participants.

With purchases by 25 percent of the survey respondents, mangoes moved into the 20th spot in 2013, thereby replacing grapefruit with their 22 percent. Johnson said mangoes are most popular with the higher-income segment of ethnic population groups. Mills pointed out that shoppers often need an education on how to pick ripe mangoes.

The same is true with cantaloupe, which dropped from seventh to 10th place because of outbreaks of listeria and salmonella in the past two years. In an attempt to maintain sales, which are better with older rather than younger shoppers, Lucky's Markets have lowered the price on cantaloupe, Mills said.

Lettuce stands in ninth place in popularity with purchases at least once a year by 53 percent of the survey respondents, Johnson said. He pointed out that Romaine lettuce is gaining a larger portion in the lettuce category as it replaces iceberg. Salad mixes have moved up to 10th place, being most popular with Caucasians, who account for 73 percent of the consumer profile.

Organic market

At Lucky's Market in Boulder, CO, nearly all of the sales are organic produce, Mills reported. At its other locations, the specialty firm fresh produce sales are holding at about a 60/40 ratio of conventional and organic.

The preference for organics at Lucky's has been noticeable for kale, chard, beets, carrots, berries and greens, Mills explained. Johnson noted, however, that organics account for only 5-6 percent of the total amount of fresh fruit and vegetable sales in the United States.

According to Pamela Riemenschneider, editor of Produce Retailer, about 25 percent of shoppers buy organic at times but the number would be significantly higher except for the higher prices of organics.

Overall survey data

The October 2013 survey found 93 percent of the respondents buy fresh fruit at least once a year while 87 percent buy fresh vegetables. Among them, 71 and 63 percent indicated they are eating more fresh produce than they did five years and one year ago respectively.

Statistical breakouts for the places of purchase were traditional supermarkets at 39 percent; chain superstores such as Walmart, Target and Meijer at 27 percent (an increase); 10 percent at farmer's markets; 7 percent at specialty stores such as Lucky's; and 6 percent each at warehouse outlets (Sam's Club and Costco) and chain store discounters (Aldi and Save-A-Lot).

In addition to the 71 percent of Caucasians in the shopper survey, there were 12 percent African Americans and 7 percent each of ethnic Asians and Hispanics. Taste was most important for Hispanics, price for Caucasians and health for Asians, Johnson observed. He pointed out this was the first time the survey asked for ethnicity of the respondents.

Among the Asians, 43 percent made purchases of fresh produce at least five times per month, Johnson said. For the other ethnic groups, the frequency was usually two or three times per month.

Local perspective

Survey respondents were also asked about their attitude on what are considered local sources of fresh produce. The findings were that 52 percent were looking to support the local economy, 41 percent sought quality and freshness, 33 percent wanted to save money, 30 percent each were concerned about health and obtaining good flavor and 18 percent were hoping to protect the environment.

On gender differences, the fathers had less time to prepare fresh produce, opting instead for items that could be eaten with no additional preparation. They were also somewhat more likely to be eating fresh produce, were concerned about preventing disease and indicated they were not eating enough fresh produce.

The mothers in the survey were more likely to consider costs when shopping. They also gave higher ratings to the importance of the taste of the fresh produce.

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