Every year I look forward to receiving my copy of the ?Fresh Trends? report from The Packer to see how closely its consumer research and my own in-store evaluations mesh. Rife with interesting information about what produce consumers are buying and why, the guide includes everything from which consumer age range and region buys the most artichokes to what price is too little or too much. It?s valuable information if you are trying to stay competitive in today?s marketplace.
This year?s research revealed some good news for produce managers around the country. Consumers in the 18-to-34 age range and households with children under 6 are all buying more fresh produce than they were five years ago. But one trend seemed to be missing.
Why, just the other day I read an article in USA Today about a restaurant in Larkspur, Calif., that was having tremendous success with this new movement. Famous chefs are writing cookbooks about this exciting culinary trend. And it is quietly gaining momentum in stores across the country.
What am I talking about? Raw foods. I know you?re thinking that?s a fringe trend in places like California or New York City. But I?d have to say au contraire.
Walk into Martindale?s Natural Foods in Springfield, Pa., and you?ll hear Shirley Markman talking to a customer about a raw foods potluck she attended the night before, or a class she will be giving this month. Head down to Maryland, and you?ll see a copy of Charlie Trotter and Roxanne Klein?s new book, Raw (Ten Speed Press, 2003), on a rack in the middle of the produce department, along with several types of juicers, flaxseed crackers and even the latest copy of Living nutrition magazine.
If you found yourself in the caf? at the Life Grocery in Marietta, Ga., on Valentine?s Day, you would have been treated to a raw foods feast that started with a fennel, avocado and endive salad drizzled with sundried olive dressing. That would have been followed by an entr?e of spinach crepes with leeks, dulse and cauliflower in a three-herb sauce, with caraway pickled carrots. All this was topped off with a dessert of carob, pumpkin and sunflower seed cake with a strawberry mango compote, carob sauce and cashew cream. I don?t know about you, but hearing that menu made me very hungry—and quite amazed that it was all raw.
Lisa Maden, general manager at Life Grocery, said store employees noticed a strong interest in raw foods about three years ago. ?This way of eating was beneficial to many dietary barriers that we see in our clients,? says Maden. ?It?s low-carb, gluten-free and even benefited many of the clients with common food allergies. The fact is, everyone can eat raw.? Martindale?s Markman said many of her clients told her they had forgotten how it feels to feel good. And with a raw food diet they remembered again.
While customer response has been slowly building in Pennsylvania, it has already been very positive in Georgia. Both stores offer classes in raw and living foods, bringing in authors and speakers on a regular basis. Life Grocery?s chef, Mike Elsen, also gives hands-on ?cooking? demonstrations. It seems to me it would be a no-brainer for produce and prepared foods departments to look into this growing customer base in their community. But how?
Start by visiting a couple of Web sites, such as www.living-foods.com or www.rawfood.com. These will help you get a feel for the reasons people choose this way of eating and will connect you with the raw foods community in your area. Offer some raw foods selections in your deli. You can start with recipes from Raw by Trotter and Klein. Produce departments can expand their horizons and offer popular items like young coconuts and a fuller line of sprouts, as well as more sprouting kits and juicers. Consider offering classes and sponsoring raw food events.And if you?re tempted to downplay the importance of this trend, remember that 20 years ago organic was considered a fringe trend, and look what we?ve become.
Mark Mulcahy runs an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 4/p. 31