Revealing the consumer take on innovations in relation to fresh produce consumption and purchases.
The Southeast Produce Council (SEPC) released its annual What’s New? 2023 Consumer research in a sold-out educational session at Southern Innovations. Pioneering organizations will provide additional innovation-focused presentations in the What’s New? Theater at the exhibit floor.
“Only one-third of consumers tend to consume fresh produce every day,” said David Sherrod, President and CEO of the SEPC. “Additionally, 51% readily admit that they find it hard to reach the recommended daily amount of fruit and vegetables or are unsure what that amount even is. That means current consumption patterns leave ample room for growth for fresh, while recognizing the tough economic marketplace. We studied the big consumer-driven sales trends to understand how innovations within each area may reveal pockets of growth for the remainder of the year, going into 2024.”
Top findings for each of the trends in the research are as follows.
“Consumers are engaged in a constant balancing act, switching dollars between foodservice and retail as well as between produce types, channels and amounts purchased,” Sherrod explained. “The ultimate value equation is far more than the lowest price alone. No less than 86% recognize that they will splurge a little for the right reasons, topped by doing something nice for themselves or friends/family. Health, sustainability, convenience and special occasions/holidays are other important reasons to spend a little more.”
- Restaurant visits remain more planned and are viewed as a treat. When eating out at restaurants, the focus is on the main entrée or choosing a restaurant that fits the budget to start with. 54% of consumers occasionally or frequently add store-bought produce to restaurant takeout or delivery.
- Fresh produce promotions are powerful in the current climate, able to steer consumers to a different type of produce (73%), make an unplanned purchase (71%) or visit a different store (61%).
- 62% of consumers believe personalized sales promotions to be a good or great idea, while only 31% are enthusiastic about dynamic pricing (31%) when buying fresh fruit and/or vegetables.
- Consumers are more hesitant to buy a fruit or vegetable they have never had before, recognizing routine is a big purchasing factor in fresh produce (47%) along with not wanting to risk buyer’s remorse (38%).
“In the eye of the consumer, fresh produce has always been synonymous with health and nutrition. That said, the definition of health has evolved to reflect both physical health/nutritious choices and emotional wellbeing or happiness,” said Sherrod.
- Two-thirds of consumers place some or a lot of focus on making healthy food and beverage choices in general and 77% agree that physical health and emotional wellbeing are interwoven.
- 76% of consumers buy produce items specifically for their known health benefits with Vitamin C as the big top-of-mind nutrient when consumers think about fresh fruit or vegetables.
- At the same time, 83% of consumers believe that veggie pasta, meat or supplements can help people reach their recommended daily amount of fruit and vegetables.
- 62% of consumers are interested in earning produce perks by sharing their physical activity, nutrition, lifestyle and sleep habits through apps.
“Consumer connect the dots between health, planet and people,” said Sherrod. “While economic pressure has created many competing choices, there remains willingness to spend a little more for items that are grown more sustainably, reduce package or food waste or highlight solutions for people in the supply chain or community.”
- 83% of consumers believe grocery stores and restaurants should aim to reduce single-use plastic.
- Half of consumers believe it is very important for grocery stores and restaurants to widen access to fresh produce to underserved communities and company employees.
- 82% are interested in knowing more about the who, where and how of store-bought produce with a key communication role for the package label and websites. “The survey identified an opportunity to share and educate, but also a need to keep it simple, using consumer-tested language to avoid misconceptions,” said Sherrod. “For instance, we tested regenerative agriculture and 38% of consumers incorrectly defined it as monocrops or growing GMO crops — very much not the message these growers are trying to convey.”
- The survey also found theoretical consumer interest in loosening produce specs to display a wider variety of sizes and the use of recyclable bins (RPCs) with an eye on reducing food and package waste.
- One in five consumers struggle with fresh produce waste at home.
“Life is hectic and expensive at the same time that many Americans try to find a better work/life balance. This has led to inconsistent shopping behaviors that reflect cooking from scratch to save and ultra-convenience all at once,” noted Sherrod. “As such, retail and restaurant visits and meals are about time-well-saved as much as about time-well-spent.”
- Consumers are somewhat de-emphasizing convenience in their purchase decision, while highlighting health, taste and value. Interest in value-added solutions is down a little compared to last year. This is also reflected in Circana value-added sales in which pounds dropped 5.0% year-on-year. However, value-added remains a big opportunity, at $11 billion in annual sales, according to Circana.
- Consumers say they would purchase more value-added with a smaller price differential and better shelf life.
- Consumers are also finding convenience in smoothies, squeeze pouches, shots and supplements, especially younger generations — demonstrating that the competition is far wider than frozen and canned alone.
“Technology has made great inroads in farming, retailing and foodservice. But for consumers, technology often reflects a great paradox,” shared Sherrod. “Consumers welcome technology in many parts of their lives yet have many questions about others, such as innovations that improve taste, nutrition or sustainability aspects of fresh fruit and vegetables.”
- Routine meals are making a comeback, but digital remains a big source of meal inspiration and tips, led by recipe websites (39% of consumers), YouTube (28%), Facebook (26%) and other big social media platforms.
- Already, 5% of consumers use artificial intelligence (AI) such as ChatGPT for meal planning. Consumers see AI as a great potential tool for recipe ideas, nutrition information and cooking appliance instructions.
- 79% of consumers are interested in shoppable recipes but the number of households buying online has plateaued.
- Virtual worlds sustain large economies and 24% believe brand, retail and restaurant experiences in virtual worlds have an impact on their real-life shopping habits.
- Consumers see many good uses for QR codes, led by nutrition information, recipes, storage tips, brand and sourcing information, but usage remains relatively low, with 50% using QR codes rarely or never.
The online study among 1,887 consumers was conducted and presented by 210 Analytics. The study fielded in August, 2023. A complete copy of the findings can be requested by contacting Anna Burch at SEPC.
About Southeast Produce Council
The Southeast Produce Council (SEPC) sprouted in 1999 when a shared vision for cultivating a nonprofit Southeastern-based produce organization was planted. From the first formal meeting of the SEPC where 100 agriculture, retail, and foodservice professionals gathered, we’ve flourished into a vibrant and innovative organization of over 4,000 industry professionals who reap the benefits of harvesting quality experiences guaranteed to increase the value of their membership. As with farmland, a well-cultivated industry can last for generations, and today, we continue to grow at a steady pace thanks to a broad range of backgrounds and expertise from people like you, creating a more bountiful tomorrow.
Learn the benefits of SEPC membership at seproducecouncil.com.