Steven Maxwell Fresh Position

Steven Maxwell, founder of Fresh Position

From convenience to premium, taste to appearance, today’s fresh produce sector is, it appears, more concerned than ever with trying to either respond to ongoing consumption trends or to predict the next one. But, aside from the obvious – price and availability – it is perhaps worth thinking about the factors that are at the root of these trends and, to an extent, influence their development.

With fresh produce sales under pressure across Europe, it is perhaps easy to see why so much effort is being put into identifying and understanding consumer trends.

According to Anastasia Alieva, head of fresh food research at Euromonitor, focused targeting – such as the development of products for different demographic groups, including families and single consumers – is a big influence on how fresh products are presented in stores.

For example, attractive packaging can be used to pull in younger consumers, while smaller packets with convenience features are aimed at busy shoppers with less time to cook.

In the latter case, the need to compete with processed and pre-cooked alternatives is the driver and has likely led to the boom in washed salads and vegetables in microwave-ready packets.

Again, in response to processed foods that make claims about health benefits, new varieties of fruits and vegetables – already rich in nutrients – are being developed. One example cited by Alieva is the selenium-rich Active Health range from Marks & Spencer in the UK, which is positioned as promoting heart health and is targeted at mature, health-conscious shoppers.

Perhaps driven by economic necessity as much as by increasing consumer awareness of the topic, manufacturers and retailers appear to be striving to reduce wastage across the supply chain.

According to Alieva, smaller packs and a significant reduction in Buy One Get One Free offers are being employed to cut wastage in highly perishable categories, particularly berries and salads.

Patty Johnson, global food and drink analyst from Mintel, believes that two major Europe-wide decisions were key contributors to greater public awareness of the need to reduce wastage.

Relaxation of EU rules governing the sale of imperfect or blemished fresh produce played a major part, while the issue was brought to the fore by a 2013 UN Environment Programme report on the detrimental economic and environmental impact of food waste in the supply chain.

Likewise, James Walton, chief economist at igd, predicts that economic pressures will push growers and retailers to attempt to further extend the life of products, forecasting that this could lead to packaging that uses less material but offers greater protection to the product inside.

The quest for novelty is also leading retailers to seek to offer rare and heritage varieties, in addition to the standard supermarket mix. This, believes Alieva, could be a good way for retailers to achieve higher margins, given that such products tend to come with a premium price tag.

Alieva adds that the development of this and other trends is very much a two-way process – as Europe’s consumers become ever more sophisticated and demanding, growers and retailers need to not just keep up with them, but to try and be one step ahead.