Similar to the concept of in-store butchers or cheese mongers, where a knowledagble staff member walks a shopper through a selection of products offering cooking and preparation tips, the fresh produce section can benefit from a curation approach and boost of personalized customer service, FMI noted.
The consumer market for fresh produce is vast, according to the 2019 Power of Produce report, 100% of American households buy fresh produce and 97% are trying to eat more of it.
"Just as consumers are rethinking fresh produce in their diets as they embrace more plant-based foods, grocers can also take a new look at their merchandising mindset for fresh fruits and vegetables. The opportunity is certainly ripe," notes Rick Stein, vice president, fresh, industry relations at FMI.
In fact, in its latest finding, FMI found that 40% of grocery products are sold based on merchandising methods including a combination of advertising, price and promotions, such as in-store demos to capture consumers' attention and provide additional information.
"These in-store efforts can engage shoppers and drive continued category growth. With such a high household penetration, it isn’t as much about attracting new produce eaters as it is encouraging more eating occasions," said Stein.
Snack-sized vegetables and locally-grown options
As consumer embrace snacking throughout the day, FMI's report showed that 38% of grocery shoppers want their produce department to carry more snack-sized vegetables (compared to 17% in 2017). More specifically, 35% of shoppers are seeking more snack packs of fruit.
Hard to prep vegetables such as squash and sweet potato are seeing strong growth in its pre-cubed or pre-spiralized packaged formats increasingly found in the produce section of many retailers, noted FMI.
"Thanks to the growing number of inventive produce forms, shoppers are also exposed to new and intriguing items to branch out to items they haven’t bought before. That extends to produce varieties that seem new and trendy to consumers, such as dragon fruit," added Stein.
Outside of packaging and product formats, the demand for local produce is stronger than ever, according to FMI. More than half (53%) of shoppers want to see a greater assortment of locally grown produce at their primary store.
"There are ways that grocers can deliver on that interest and provide a local experience, such as setting up in-store farmers markets that replicate the charm and assortment of a community farmers market. On another level, some retailers own their own farms or have exclusive partnerships with growers to offer locally-grown fruits and vegetables under their brand or banner," Stein said.
Making produce a destination
FMI concluded that grocers play a crucial role in influencing further produce eating occasions and educating consumers about different varieties of fruits and vegetables and how to prepare them.
"Stores can conduct more demos, share information on their digital sites and maximize ways for employees to serve as resources, akin to a butcher or cheese specialist. Why just stock produce when you can spur sales by providing ideas and tips?," Stein added.