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Fresh puts a dent in canned fruit.

Although products packed in less sugary syrup and natural juices attracted some new consumers into the canned fruit section last year, the lighter products are not revitalizing the category as many manufacturers and grocers expected. Canned fruit sales in supermarkets decreased by 2.8% in 1983, to a total of $1.08 billion.

To combat the slide of canned goods in general, food processors have joined together through their trade association to inform the public of the benefits of canned fruits, vegetables and other processed products. The National Food Processors Association (NFPA) expects expects to spend at least $3 million in 1984 to attempt to alter consumer attitudes that contributed to the trumble in canned food sales.

"A lot of negative things have been said about canned food during the past few years that have hurt sales tremendously," says Harry Mussman, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based NFPA. "Consumers perceive canned goods as old-fashioned, not a nutritious as raw products and as having excessive preservaties and additives. It's a big challenge to change that negative image."

"The program will present cans as containers that deliver wholesome food products in convenient containers for use by value-smart, contemporary people," says Fernando Gumucio, group vice president, Del Monte, and chairman of NFPA's marketing committee.

While the processors attempt to convince consumers of the desirability of cans, many are also investing in extensive research to develop better processing techniques and technology. "We are in a turbulent period in processed foods," Mussman notes.

According to the Department of Agriculture, total canned fruit cases produced domestically have declined from 96.2 million cases 10 years ago, to only 56.9 million cases for the 1982 pack.

An item by item comparison of the 1973 and 1982 pack shows the precipitous slide that canned fruits have taken. Some products and the declines they have recorded are: applesauce, down 28%; apricots, down 60%; fruit cocktail, down 35%; peaches, down 24%; and pears, down 21%. Pineapple, which advanced from 15 million cases in 1973 to 16.6 million cases in 1981, was the only major commodity to record an increase during the past 10 years.

Pineapple has been performing well because it is a product that fits into new consumer lifestyles and method of cooking. Says Joyce Steele, manager of communications for Castle & Cooke, which packs Dole pineapple, "People are using pineapple as an ingredient to cook with, and are also using it to make desserts."

Steele reports that pineapple in syrup is selling well in spite of a consumer desire to cut back on sugar in the diet. "We see a comeback in rich desserts because people like to indulge in a big way when they treat themselves," she says. Pineapple packed in natural juices, which Dole introduced in 1967, is also doing well even though more fresh pineapples are finding their way into supermarket produce sections.

Del Monte has been promoting strongly in 1984 in an effort to maintain its leadership in the canned fruit category. The company's current campaign allows consumers to save money on telephone leasing charges by purchasing Del Monte products. Consumers who send in 15 to 60 Del Monte proof-of-purchase seals receive a voucher that enables them to subtract $2 to $10 from their phone bill.

"We like to run thematic promotions that allow us to promote all the Del Monte products under one umbrella," says Karen Bachmann, manager of product publicity for Del Monte. "When people purchase a lot of products due to a promotion, there is a strong tendency for them to become a steady customer." A Del Monte thematic promotion in 1983 that offered customers a stuffed animal when they sent in 60 to 75 labels resulted in almost 25 million labels being mailed in to the manufacturer. Del Monte plans to repeat this stuffed animal promotion in 1984.

Along with promoting regular lines, Del Monte and other fruit canners have been putting marketing muscle behind canned fruits with reduced or no sugar.

The Del Monte light line of products includes peaches, pears, fruit cocktail, and applesauce. Bachmann says the fruits packed in natural juices represent 25% of Del Monte's canned fruit scales. Industry-wide, the light products account for approximately 15% of canned fruit sales. The Libby's brand has probably suffered the most during the past year. In the summer of 1983. California Canners & Growers of San Francisco, which had acquired the Libby's trademark from Libby, McNeil & Libby, declared bankruptcy. The outlook for the canning cooperative was so bleak that the firm did not even attempt to reorganize under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy law.

Tri/Valley Growers acquired the Libby's brand when California Canners & Growers folded. (Tri/Valley was formerly a packer of private label canned fruits and vegetables.) The addition of the Libby brand gave the company a new emphasis.

"We are confident that the Libby name will give us a stronger place in the market," says Dan Thornton, marketing manager of brands at Tri/Valley, the San Francisco-based canning cooperative. "We're enthusiastic about the light lines because Libby's has built a reputation for those products. We will emphasize the light fruits in our advertising and promotions because that is where growth will be in this category."

Grocery buyers report that light fruits are making greater inroads into sales of traditional products than their low-sodium counterparts in the canned vegetables section. Daryl Titus, a buyer for Super Food Services in Bellfontaine, Ohio, says, "The light products have made canned fruit into a growing category for us."

The static nature of the category is causing problems for canners since it is more difficult to get shelf and display space in supers. Moreover, retailers are giving valuable endcaps to growing products such as the aseptically packed juices.

"The canned fruit section has collapsed in space," says Dick Fink, director of marketing for S&W Fine Foods based in San Mateo, Calif. "Even though we are coming out with products packed in their own juices, it's difficult to get extra space for these items. The reluctance of the grocery trade to carry more canned goods has made us more conservative in our product introductions." S&W sells peaches, pears and fruit cocktail packed in lightly sweetened fruit juices.
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Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Jul 1, 1984
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