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    Cool Insights on the Hottest Fresh Produce Trend

    Salad greens are the season’s most sought-after vegetable

    By Jennifer Strailey

    Several recent studies indicate that U.S. consumers aren’t only savoring salad greens with greater frequency, but also with a more adventurous palate. The trend spells new opportunities for supermarkets that provide the freshness, variety, color and recipe ideas that shoppers seek from this category.

    According to Mintel’s “U.S. Fruit and Vegetables” report from October 2014, the U.S. fruit and vegetable category increased from $89 billion to an estimated $105 billion between 2009 and 2014, and is expected to reach $126 billion by 2019. Chicago-based Mintel further found that consumers continue to gravitate to fresh food, and that sales are driven primarily by consumer perceptions that fruits and vegetables are good sources of nutrients.

    What’s exciting for purveyors of salad greens is that among all fruits and vegetables, lettuce was the most purchased item, with 83 percent of respondents indicating that they had purchased lettuce in the past month. Mintel also notes that fresh-cut salads account for $5 billion in sales, but are forecasted to grow more quickly than any other segment between 2014 and 2019.

    While consumers love their lettuce, they also report eating a wider variety of fruits and vegetables than ever before.

    This appetite for greater variety was also indicated in “The Lettuce Revolution, 2013,” a study from Chicago-based Technomic and commissioned by Mann Packing Co. Inc. According to the study, foodservice operators are moving away from romaine lettuce and experimenting with a wider selection of salad green varieties.

    According to the study, some 83 percent of restaurant consumers say that the type of salad green is an important factor in their decision to order a salad at a restaurant. What’s more, they crave a variety of flavors and textures, as well as a blend of colors.

    More than half (59 percent) of consumers say that a darker color of salad greens is more appealing, while 70 percent think that different lettuce types — curly, leafy, robust —enhance a salad’s appeal.

    To meet the demand, Salinas, Calif.-based Mann has introduced distinctive lettuces such as Mann’s Arcadian Harvest Classic, Mann’s Arcadian Harvest Emerald and Mann’s Arcadian Harvest Ruby Blend.

    The data are consistent with Mintel’s findings. The market research firm’s report notes that some 18 percent of respondents say they wish they could find more unique varieties of fruit and vegetables where they shop. Supermarkets that stock more unusual salad greens and also give consumers ideas of how to use them may capture the greatest sales, as 17 percent of consumers say they would buy more types of vegetables if they knew how to prepare them.

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