The ever-changing market for fresh-cut and convenience products is the focus of the European Convenience Forum, which kicked off this morning at the Movenpick Hotel in Hamburg.
Organised by Agrarmarkt Informations-Gesellschaft (AMI) and Fruchthandel Magazine, in cooperation with the German Fruit Trade Association (DFHV), the event aims to give the fresh convenience industry new impetus and a new opportunity to develop strategies and ideas for marketing and distribution together with key partners in the European sector.
Dr Hans Christian Behr of AMI opened the conference by pointing out the potential of the German market for further growth in fresh-cut sales, given its relatively low sales in the category when compared to markets such as the UK, Belgium, France and Austria.
Behr noted that fresh-cut salads are dominant in sales terms in Germany, with mixed fruit the big growth category since 2012, while smoothies are also on the rise.
Michael Mohring or Erfa Foodservice highlighted the change in focus for fresh-cut in the foodservice sector, both in terms of the food on offer and those driving the industry forward.
"The focus of the plate is changing," he told delegates. "Meats are being replaced by plants - fruits and vegetables. And while freshness is great, people want it fast, healthy and convenient, even in the workplace where there is a big opportunity for fresh-cut.
"Who are you selling to?" he continued. "In the past it was chefs, buying managers, fresh produce category managers. In the future, however, it will be the guests, the customers, they are the ones driving trends and demands. So, customer demand should be your focus."
In a detailed look at the French market for fresh convenience, Matthieu Serrurier of Ctifl showed how pre-cut vegetable sales made up just 5 per cent of the overall vegetable category in the country, while pre-cut fruit sales is one of the smallest sample sizes of any country in Europe.
There is room for optimism though, he noted: "There is much room for growth," he explained. "Sales are increasing for pre-packed fruit and vegetables despite a French consumer preference to touch and smell produce before buying. This growth is driven by factors like an increased awareness of hygiene issues."
Indeed, the overall consumption of pre-cut fruits increased by a factor of five between 2011 and 2017, Serrurier confirmed.
According to a consumer study in France, the important factors for fresh-cut products were freshness, taste and convenience, with quality/price ratio least important.
In Italy, meanwhile, the majority of fresh-cut produce sales come in the vegetable category, according to Giancarlo Colelli of the University of Foggia.
Fresh-cut veg sales came in at €850m in 2017, 81 per cent of which was sales of bagged salads, with sales volume and value both on the rise, driven by salad trays and vegetable snacks in particular.
Sales of fresh-cut fruit, however, came in at an estimated €50m last year, with much room for growth still.
"Snacks, mixed and ready-to-eat meals are increasing in popularity, with products including 'spaghetti vegetables', pre-cooked soups, and juices, smoothies and spreads," said Colelli. "Other rising convenience products include fresh-cut fennel, fennel sticks, artichokes, microgreens and zucchini flowers."