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Farm Cred.

Byline: Jennifer Strailey

Produce departments establish freshness, build trust and drive sales through merchandising with a farmers'-market feel.

When it comes to top trends in fresh produce merchandising and packaging, reinforcing the connection among the farm, the grocer and the consumer is critical to spurring sales in today's competitive marketplace. How do progressive grocers create an experience that transcends the produce aisle, connecting shoppers straight to the source? Every aspect of fresh fruit and vegetable merchandising and packaging is an opportunity for storytelling, display elements inspired by nature, and evocative visual cues.

Produce packaging has evolved in recent years to make the message mouthwatering and the freshness ring out loud and clear.

"The trend is in transparency of the package or label that allows consumers to see as much of the product as possible, as well as more natural packaging that looks like craft paper or uses wood tones and browns," observes Kristen Yerecic, of Yerecic Label, in New Kensington, Pa. "It goes back to wanting to connect with local and an old-fashioned feel."

Yerecic Label has conducted extensive research on fresh produce packaging and merchandising trends, in part through its sponsorship of the annual FMI "Power of Produce" report, the 2016 edition of which is slated for release later this month.

"One of the biggest things to emerge from our research is the importance of recipes, because people aren't quite sure what to think of some produce items, and they don't know what to do with them," notes Yerecic, who points to a recent label the company created for Kalettes, the kale-and-Brussels-sprout hybrid, which features a recipe and an enticing finished-dish photo.

Further driving the need for inspiration, in the form of recipes and food photography, is the trend of using vegetables as an ingredient.

"The use of produce as a side dish is going down, while the use of produce as an ingredient is going up, with one-pot dishes, slow-cooker meals and more," asserts Yerecic. Recipes for these easy-to-prepare meals and snacks, as well as those for juicing and smoothies, are all resonating with shoppers, she adds.

"From the research we've done, we also know that a finished-dish photo on the package that gets the "Wow, that looks delicious!' reaction [pulls] the consumer into trying something they haven't before," notes Yerecic.

Yerecic Label conducted focus groups last year for a blueberry pack that featured a muffin recipe and photo. Participant feedback, which elicited responses such as "My mouth is watering," also indicated that the recipe and photo would inspire them to buy an extra pack of blueberries.

In an effort to maximize precious packaging real estate, the company created an innovative BackFlip dual-sided label specifically for clamshell packages.

Windset Farms, in British Columbia, uses the BackFlip label for its packs of Roma Tomatoes on the Vine, Concerto Grape Tomatoes and Allegro Tomatoes on the Vine. Each item features back labels, visible from inside the clamshell, with a finished-dish photo and a link to recipes on its website.

Another major trend in produce packaging and merchandising is storytelling that connects grower and consumer.

One example of this is the BackFlip label that Yerecic Label created for Canada's Loblaws Supermarkets' Farmer's Market brand. "When you open the clamshell, it tells the grower's story and farming practices," explains Yerecic. "It goes hand-in-hand with that local feel that people want.

"Giving growers more opportunities to tell their stories through signage, labels or packaging is the way to connect with people on a deeper level," she affirms.

Healthy Eating Made Easy

"Fresh and convenience," asserts Jennifer Barnes, of Robbie Flexibles, when asked to describe the top trends in fresh produce packaging in just two words.

"The biggest trend we are hearing about is the demand for less-processed foods, more healthy alternatives, and the desire for convenient packaging in both family size and snack size," adds Barnes, product manager for the Lenexa, Kan.-based flexible-packaging company.

Today's shoppers aren't just tossing items into their baskets. Their increasing discernment demands a thoughtful approach from retailers and suppliers alike.

"Consumers, especially Baby Boomers, are taking the time to see if the produce is packaged in store, if it is locally grown and if it's fresh," continues Barnes. "Retailers are building on this awareness by offering packaging that protects the product's freshness and the packaging's real estate by letting them promote words like "fresh' and "packaged in-store,' as well as how-to instructions."

With convenience and added value in mind, Robbie has created several new packaging solutions for the fresh produce industry. The Fresh N Tasty Bulk Produce Pouch offers an easy-carry handle, resealable zipper and macro perforations on both sides of the pouch for easy rinsing of the produce. The pouches are available in four sizes, from snack to family packs.

"Fresh N Tasty Bulk Pouch is an alternative for retailers wanting to provide consumers with the convenience of picking up pre-packaged produce, versus picking through bulk displays," notes Barnes. "Consumers also love the added food safety gained with buying pre-packaged produce."

Certainly, local also remains a powerful driver in fresh produce, and Robbie has responded to the need for greater backyard messaging with a new pouch that features "Locally Grown" at the top of the package, near the handle. Robbie currently offers the product in two sizes, but is working with retailers to gauge the need for additional pouch specs.

"Consumers are paying more attention to what they eat, where their food is grown and just how safe it is," observes Barnes. "Local food, or locally sourced, is rapidly growing from a niche market into a full, dedicated section in the produce department."

Robbie's other new packaging addresses the trend of healthful meals made easy. "We wanted to offer retailers a new alternative to provide consumers with a fresh addition to ready-to-eat meal solutions," says Barnes of Robbie's new steamable pouch for fresh-cut produce.

The pouch is designed with customized laser-venting technology that allows the produce to steam evenly in the microwave while preserving the taste and nutritional benefits of the veggies.

"This new pouch answers the demand of the consumer wanting fresh and healthy alternatives to processed foods," adds Barnes. "For retailers, the pouch helps build awareness of products that promote freshness and packaged in-store."

Merchandising Naturally

Supermarkets that create a farmers'-market ambiance send a fresh message that may translate to increased sales of fruits and vegetables.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is in the process of resetting the produce departments of some 2,000 of its stores with wood grain reusable plastic containers (RPCs), notes Tony Mosco, North American VP of sales for Polymer Logistics, one of two companies now supplying the Bentonville, Ark.-based mega-retailer with new RPCs.

Riverside, Calif-based Polymer rolled out its wood grain RPCs in Europe several years ago. "Consumers in Italy said they liked the way it looked, better than commercial black RPCs," recounts Mosco. "It has a warm farmers'-market feel, and retailers said consumers are buying more produce as a result.

"The biggest trend in fresh produce merchandising is the farmers'-market look," he continues. "It's more eye-appealing and friendly to consumers."

Polymer, which has an exclusive agreement with Walmart for the next 18 months, plans to roll out its wood grain RPCs to other retailers upon fulfillment of its commitment.

Walmart is reportedly implementing the wood grain RPCs in phases, beginning with dry commodities like onions, potatoes, tomatoes and stone fruit, in several Bentonville locations.

"Wood grain RPCs are a major innovation," asserts Mosco, who adds that Polymer also offers a waterfall wood grain merchandiser for end caps, to complement the natural-looking RPCs.

IFCO North America is also supplying Walmart with wood grain RPCs, and while the style is new, the solution is established.

"[RPCs] were and remain an innovative solution that replaced a variety of packaging options a generation ago," notes Daniel Walsh, president of Tampa, Fla.-based IFCO.

"They are more efficient, cost-effective, sustainable and protect food better than one-way packaging," he continues. "They also allow for greater air circulation around the product, helping to maintain its freshness. All of these factors [enable] retailers and growers to provide consumers with a wide variety of quality fresh produce year-round."

Sustainability also plays an important role in conveying a farm-fresh message. "There is a sharp focus on several key factors right now: efficiency, cost savings, product quality and sustainability," says Walsh. "Recent Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) research shows RPCs are more sustainable in every LCA category than cardboard boxes for fresh produce packaging."

On the food safety front, IFCO recently developed and installed proprietary SmartGuardian monitoring technology in all six of its U.S. RPC service centers.

SmartGuardian software monitors and controls IFCO's RPC cleaning and sanitation process so that it meets strict company and industry standards.

"In today's complex and global supply chain," asserts Walsh, "remaining vigilant and maintaining a commitment to continual improvement is important to ensure we provide the safest possible food."

"One of the biggest things to emerge from our research is the importance of recipes, because people aren't quite sure what to think of some produce items, and they don't know what to do with them."

--Kristin Yerecic, Yerecic Label

"The biggest trend we are hearing about is the demand for less-processed foods, more healthy alternatives, and the desire for convenient packaging in both family size and snack size."

--Jennifer Barnes, Robbie Flexibles

"[RPCs] were and remain an innovative solution that replaced a variety of packaging options a generation ago."

--Daniel Walsh, IFCO North America

Broccoli Benefits From On-trend Displays

Exotic and lesser-known fruits and veggies aren't the only items that beg for inspired preparation ideas. Familiar broccoli becomes a bold new ingredient with the right positioning.

"Customers want ease," asserts Jacob Shafer, marketing communication coordinator for Mann Packing Co. Inc., in Salinas, Calif. "Getting back to their busy lives as fast as possible has never mattered more, and one of the biggest reasons for a consumer to be unsatisfied with a product is the amount of effort they have to put into it.

"Basically, consumers want quick, healthy meal solutions that are also nutritious," he adds, "so at Mann's, we are focusing on continued innovation, striving to bring ultimate convenience and freshness to consumers."

With this in mind, Mann's recently expanded its Culinary Cuts line of fresh, uniquely cut vegetables to include Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Cauliettes and Broccoli Clovers. The full line is supported by recipes, photos and videos available at Culinarycutsclub.com.

All of the veggies are washed, ready to cook and versatile. "As we move into summer and outdoor eating becomes more frequent, the Sliced Broccoli Clovers are ideal served as an appetizer that is both healthy and delicious," notes Shafer.

Braga Fresh Family Farms is also encouraging more creative broccoli usage with its Josie's Organics line and a website loaded with nutritious, delicious recipes.

"With Josie's Organics, we're encouraging people to embrace the whole vegetable," says Chadwick Boyd, a food and lifestyle expert for the Soledad, Calif.-based brand. "The idea of using grated broccoli stalks to refresh salads, for example, is really resonating with home cooks."

While many consumers purchase broccoli and eat only the florets, Josie's Organics is promoting increased value and sustainability. As CEO Rod Braga contends, "Through whole-vegetable cooking, we extend sustainability from our family farm to family dinner tables around the country."
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Author:Strailey, Jennifer
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2016
Words:2182
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