Fayette County Extension

2017 Trends in Fresh Produce: What’s Hot and Why

Hope you enjoy this article by Lynne Hayes, Growing America, January 16, 2017

Purple is the new green for 2017.  Not on department store racks—in the ground. Produce predictions indicate that “purple everything,” from asparagus to cauliflower to sweet potatoes, will be in demand by consumers this year.

To find out what else is in store for the fruit and vegetable industry this year, Growing America reached out to Joe Marino, Head of Marketing for Sun Valley Orchards in Swedesboro, New Jersey for some perspective.

Trend Drivers: Food Chefs, Consumer Tastes

Marino says he believes one of the biggest drivers in food trends has been the food and cooking shows and he expects them to continue to impact consumer tastes and demands.

“When those celebrity chefs start using trendy ingredients, consumer demand skyrockets,” says Marino. “We’ve seen it with kale for example. And now with comfort foods so big, we’re seeing some resurgence in consuming what I call ‘old-time’ vegetables like Brussels sprouts, fresh beets and spinach.”

A December blog by Joe Himmelheber, Director of Merchandising and Marketing at Caito Foods Service, Inc., adds a few more categories to the 2017 popularity list. Himmelheber says avocados, the whole citrus category, bagged salads, cooking veggies, onions and peppers also continue to maintain strength.

According to Himmelheber’s blog, more consumers are also willing to experiment with specialty fruits and vegetables, and that so-called “Value-Added” produce by-products like pomegranate arils, sliced apple snacks, fruit-flavored water, etc. have all shown “incredible growth” and that we can expect more of the same for 2017.

One thing everyone agrees on—the trend toward consuming fresh food is going strong. According to the Fresh Trends survey conducted by The Packer, 63% of respondents say they’re eating more produce than they were 12 months ago.

And consumers love to taste test. Fresh Trends also found that 44% of respondents said in-store sampling was a key selling point for fresh produce.

To Plant or Not to Plant

The temptation may be there to start devoting several acres to growing those trendy purple veggies, but Marino points out that jumping on the bandwagon isn’t always easy for growers—or prudent.

“For a commercial grower like myself, our business is set up around a nucleus of staple items (squash, cucumbers, etc.),” explains Marino. “If I hear beets are hot, I have to think carefully about what it will involve to start with them. It’s planting, growing, harvesting, packaging…I might need more machines, storage different watering, more staffing. Sometimes the answer for us is that’s it’s just not worth it.”

Marino adds, however, that smaller growers are definitely in a position to capitalize on a trending vegetable or fruit.

“Some of these growers plant as many as 200 items, so adding a couple rows of one item, like a purple asparagus requested by some local restaurants or grocers can work for them,” says Marino.

He points out that it’s all a matter of economics and asking yourself how quickly you can react to a demand; and, of course, what will your return be.

The best advice Marino offers is to “know your market and know whether you can sell it. Don’t grow a trend grow what sells.”

He advises growers to seek the advice of their sales outlets and get as much feedback as you can from them. “They can tell you what the movements are, what’s down, how’s the economy, etc. Stay on top of it and think before you plant.”

This is especially important as the demand for locally grown food increases. Fresh Trends reports that 55% of shoppers “make a conscious effort” to buy locally grown/regionally-sourced produce—and that puts greater pressure on growers to get perishables to market at their freshest.

“We worry about that…certain items are susceptible to the economy for sure,” admits Marino, “hopefully the volatile economy won’t price more expensive items to the point where grocers aren’t buying them—or they start buying stuff for half the price. We have about five days to pick, pack and get items to the seller. We have no choice sometimes but to take what we can get.”

Still, the locally grown concept has been a boon for Marino’s business and his competition in the state thanks to the food marketing program, Jersey Fresh (part of the umbrella program, Jersey Grown). Founded by Governor Arthur Brown in the early 80s, it was the first true state food branding campaign and has become a template for states around the country, as Growing America noted in a related article earlier this year.

“Any of our produce that lends itself to be bagged, boxed or tagged features the Jersey Grown/Jersey Fresh label,” says Marino, “and that’s given our products like asparagus some real cache in the marketplace.”

New President, New Issues

One thing Marino’s business plans to do this year is cut back on a few items, acreage-wise. He says his company is trying to develop the mindset that growing more isn’t always better—especially in an uncertain economy.

“Everybody in our business has questions about the new administration and what impact it will have on our industry,” says Marino. “I think we will get a step in the right direction away from over-regulation, lower taxes, clamping down on trade with Canada and Mexico, immigration and H2A.”

As for the H2A policy, Marino admits “it’s flawed but we have no choice right now. I’m hopeful for change and I’m very involved in working on that. Hopefully fixing immigration will provide a new visa program for ag.”