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History was made, records were broken and innovation prevailed at the Produce Marketing Association?s (PMA) 2014 Fresh Summit, in Anaheim, Calif., Oct. 17?19.
The largest-ever annual produce pageant drew more than 22,400 members of the global fresh produce and floral industry. The event also topped the charts on the show floor, which featured 1,090 exhibiting companies occupying 265,300 net square feet.
Finding new ways to increase consumers? consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially with regard to children, remained a hot topic, as were food safety and talent management. But these issues were more than the talk of the town. Thanks to scores of social media-savvy attendees, #FreshSummit became one of the most popular social media conversations around the globe during mid-October.
In terms of trends on the exhibition floor, the prevalence of produce-based snacks was undeniable.
According to the recent Nielsen Global Snacking Survey, nearly half of respondents admitted to snacking instead of eating meals. Indeed, snack sales are soaring. Global snack sales totaled $374 billion annually as of March 2014, up 2 percent year over year, according to Nielsen retail sales data. In North America alone, snack sales account for $124 billion.
As snacks continue to replace three squares, health-conscious consumers are looking to the produce department for sustenance solutions.
When Nielsen?s Global Snacking Survey asked consumers around the world what one snack they would choose above all others, fresh fruit was the overwhelming response. Schaumburg, Ill.-based Nielsen found that 18 percent of global respondents chose fresh fruit from a list of 47 options.
While many fruits, from apples to bananas, are naturally designed for grab-and-go consumption, a host of innovative produce suppliers are introducing new ways to enjoy these sought-after snacks. Chelan Fresh Marketing, for example, showcased its new Rockit at the PMA Summit. The Rockit is a high-graphic sleeve, similar to tennis ball packaging, which contains four or five smaller New Zealand apples.
?It?s about getting fresh fruit into people?s hands,? says Chelan Director of Marketing Mac Riggan, who notes that the Rockit can be sold in nontraditional venues like vending machines. ?The Rockit provides great convenience in a practical delivery package,? he says. ?It can be thrown in a golf bag, gym bag or sent to school or camp for lunch.?
The Chelan, Wash.-based company also introduced the Cup ?O Cherries, an 8-ounce cup of washed and de-stemmed cherries that features a smart lid: One section of the lid dispenses cherries, while a different compartment provides a place for pits.
?It makes the consumption of cherries a one-handed experience,? asserts Riggan. ?They can be enjoyed like a cup of Starbucks while driving or just on the go.?
Tom Lange Co., of Springfield, Ill., introduced its new Actual Produce line of grab-and-go fruit cups at the Fresh Summit. Part of Tom Lange?s ?Foods with Benefits? strategy, Actual Produce was developed to meet consumer demand for fresher, healthier and more convenient products.
The Actual Produce fruit cups are single-serve containers that hold 5 ounces of washed, hand-cut product. Currently, there are six varieties, all of which are processed regionally for freshness. As consumers eat the fruit, the Actual Produce reverse label and tagline are revealed: ?Eat. Smile. Repeat.?
When it comes to enjoying fruit on the go, what could be easier than drinking a vitamin-rich juice blend? That?s the idea behind Stemilt Growers? newly launched Fresh Blenders, a product line of 5-pound pouch bags of both sweet and tart apple varieties that?s designed to fuel the burgeoning blender and juicer trend.
?Juicing and blending smoothies at home has taken off in recent years, and continues to grow in popularity among consumers across all age demographics,? said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for the Wenatchee, Wash.-based company. ?Fresh Blenders is the perfect platform to directly market to this crowd and deliver them a great grab-and-go value pack.? The bags are shipped in a Fresh Blenders display-ready carton.
Just 4 Kids
Marketing to children was top of mind at this year?s Fresh Summit. It was a topic of discussion during the annual State of the Industry address delivered by PMA CEO Bryan Silbermann and PMA President Cathy Burns, as well as the concept behind the Just 4 Kids section, a special part of the New Products Showcase dedicated to companies with innovative products and services geared toward children.
Among the novel and tasty kid-friendly offerings were Bolthouse Farms Kids, a line of refrigerated fruit- and veggie-based snacks including Smoothies, Fruit Tubes and Veggie Snackers; Snapz premium fruit and veggie crisps made with real fruit and vegetables, using a low-temperature, multistep dehydration process; and The Oppenheimer Group?s Cookie Monster mesh bag filled with easy-to-peel fruit.
The last product is the result of the PMA and Sesame Workshop Eat Brighter! campaign, as are Sunkist?s ?Sesame Street?-themed 10-pound navel orange carton and polybag, and its Giro bag of easy-peel mandarins.
?Childhood obesity is one of the most pressing issues facing our country,? observes Joan Wickham, manager of advertising and public relations for Sunkist Growers, in Valencia, Calif. ?Fighting this epidemic requires powerful industry partnerships, and at Sunkist we believe that is exactly what PMA and the Sesame Workshop are offering with the Eat Brighter! movement.?
Sharing her impressions of Fresh Summit, Wickham notes ?how inspiring it was to see so many different industry players supporting the movement in various ways at PMA Fresh Summit to help encourage families to eat more produce as part of a healthier lifestyle.?
There were also numerous products geared to older kids and teens in the healthier-for-you snack category. Crunch Pak, of Cashmere, Wash., has teamed with the National Basketball Association (NBA) to offer Fit Snackers, a combo package of sliced fresh apples, cheese and pretzels, featuring several of the league?s most popular players on the label.
?We want to encourage kids of all ages to eat more fruits and vegetables,? says Tony Freytag, Crunch Pak SVP of sales and marketing. ?NBA Fit Snackers are portable, they?re easy to toss into a bag and go, and they make healthy eating fun and appealing.?
Mann Packing, which displayed its Snap Pea Sensations kits in the New Products Showcase, shone the spotlight on its Mann?s Veggies and Hummus fresh vegetable tray, featuring Sabra Classic hummus, in the Just 4 Kids showcase.
As part of the Salinas, Calif.-based company?s year-long 75th anniversary celebration, three Mann employees participated in an inaugural Tour de Fresh fundraising bike ride from Salinas to Anaheim, where the Fresh Summit was underway.
?It?s a great cause that supports something we?re all very passionate about at Mann?s ? addressing the child obesity issue and doing our part to contribute to the health and well-being of children,? says Craig Grantham, director of sales operations and Mann?s Tour de Fresh team captain. The money raised by the Mann Tour de Fresh team was earmarked for school salad bars.
Sweet and Savory
Who doesn?t love a little yin and yang in their diet? The snack industry has long capitalized on treats combining sweet and savory, and now produce suppliers are getting into the game with healthful alternatives.
At the PMA Fresh Summit, Los Angeles-based Melissa?s debuted Clean Snax, a line of healthful snacks in four mixes: Almond, Pumpkin, Coconut and Cranberry. Each clamshell package contains approximately 30 lightly salted, bite-size squares made from nutrient-packed chia and flaxseed sweetened with honey. The crunchy little squares are shelf-stable for six months, and all varieties are gluten-free.
Mariani Nut Co. added five new flavors to its seasoned almond line: Spicy Cajun, Smoked Seasoned, Chili Lime, Sweet BBQ and Vanilla Roast. The entire seasoned line is now all-natural and available in 6-ounce, resealable zip-lock foil bags. These new sweet-and-savory flavors join Wasabi & Soy, Honey Roasted, Roasted & Salted with sea salt, and Whole Natural almonds, first introduced by the Winters, Calif.-based company in 2010.
?It is important to us to provide a seasoned product that remains healthy,? says Matt Mariani, who oversees the company?s sales and marketing, pointing to sales trend data demonstrating that the nut category has increased 162 percent in dollar volume since 2000.
Calbee North America, in Boardman, Ore., spread holiday cheer and expanded upon its Harvest Snaps brand with a trio of limited-edition sweet-and-savory Holiday Snaps. The three new flavors, a mix of green peas and lentil beans, are Salted Caramel, Cinnamon & Brown Sugar, and Coffee Toffee.
?We continuously see the growth in the better-for-you snack category,? notes Mio Sakata, director of brand marketing ?Produce purchasers ? moms, etc. ? are loyal users of our brand.?
Harvest Snaps has rapidly expanded distribution of its six regular Harvest Snaps flavors: Lightly Salted, Caesar, Black Pepper, Wasabi Ranch, Tomato Basil and Onion Thyme.
As produce continues to move from a commodity business to a brand-driven industry, messaging and communication are crucial to success.
?Managing a brand is becoming more and more complex, with consumers demanding information not only about quality, how products are grown and sustainability, but also about the social causes a company supports, environmental policies and labor standards, to name a few,? asserts Meg Miller, director of public relations for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.
The industry?s response has been game-changing. To illustrate this innovation, Miller points to recent developments in produce packaging: eye-catching graphics, clear windows that allow the consumer to see the contents, reclosable/resealable convenience, clearly visible logos, and an invitation to communicate through websites, QR codes, social media and more.
As shown by that last item, the produce industry is embracing social media, engaging consumers and encouraging dialogue, observes Miller. The Twitter explosion at this year?s Fresh Summit is just one example.
Duda Farm Fresh Foods, of Oviedo, Fla., was part of #Team-FreshSummit, a social street team project that invited 16 food bloggers to blog live from the PMA show floor. Through the power of social media, Duda was able to draw attention to its new Dandy line of ready-to-eat radishes, including Ready Radishes, Radish Coins and Radish MiniSticks.
?We understand and appreciate the power of bloggers, and we are excited to have these bloggers act as Dandy brand ambassadors and create a positive association for the whole fresh produce industry,? says Nichole Towell, director of marketing.
NatureSweet Tomatoes, of San Antonio, has been inspiring consumers to give back this holiday season. From Nov. 10 to Dec. 5, customers were invited to find NatureSweet Tomatoes displays featuring Santa Timmy in retail and grocery stores, snap a selfie with the little tomato in a Santa hat, and then upload and share it on social media (#MySanta-Selfie) for the chance to win a $3,000 shopping spree.
Along with the photo and hashtag, entrants were asked to explain how they?re giving back this holiday season.
?Giving back is particularly important during the holiday season,? says Michael Joergensen, NatureSweet?s VP of marketing. ?At NatureSweet, we are committed to having a positive social, environmental and economic impact on the communities in which we operate. That?s why we are particularly interested in hearing all the wonderful ways our NatureSweet fans are invested in their own communities.?
?Childhood obesity is one of the most pressing issues facing our country.?
?Joan Wickham, Sunkist Growers
?It makes the consumption of cherries a one-handed experience.?
?Mac Riggan, Chelan Fresh Marketing
?Managing a brand is becoming more and more complex.?
?Meg Miller, Produce Marketing Association