When food companies started whittling down misshapen carrots to make baby carrots, their goal was to reduce food waste. What actually happened was the birth of a produce aisle staple. That was decades ago.
Today, fresh cut produce of all varieties is flying off the shelves, says Kathy Means, vice president of industry relations at the Produce Marketing Association, and finding favor with all kinds of shoppers: "folks in a hurry, folks who like convenience items, people who have trouble preparing produce because of arthritis or mobility challenges," she says. Additionally, it resonates with families who don’t want to buy a lot of ingredients or cooks who don’t know how to prepare a certain item themselves.
Retailers who want to get in the game can find success, but only if they do it right. Here are Means’ tips:
Adhere to food safety standards. This one’s basic, but retailers who want to cut and package their own produce need to be sure that they keep it cold throughout the process and refrigerate it properly in the aisle. Retailers also need to educate their customers on the needs of pre-cut produce, which can sometimes differ from the needs of whole fruits and vegetables. "Consumers shouldn’t leave perishables in a hot car," Means explains. "Be sure the items are properly handled at home, especially making sure pre-cut produce is stored in the fridge."
Listen to shoppers. Means recommends tailoring offerings based on shopper preferences. One store's target may be newbie cooks who might want a pre-cubed butternut squash, which can be a challenge for many. Another store may do better with grab-and-go, ready-to-eat items like a fruit salad or traditional salad. "As for how successful a store is, I think it comes down to knowing your customers, exploring the various items that are available, handling them properly, and marketing well," she says.
Get creative. Cutting and packaging produce by item is helpful for home cooks who know what they want. But Means also recommends packaging different cut produce together as a sort of kit, for example, creating a soup starter of onions, celery and carrots. In particular, she cites ready-to-cook potato dishes as one area that’s exploding. "We see multi-ingredient side dishes, like veggie bowls, that can be microwaved quickly and bring a new flavor set to a meal," she says.