A sharp increase in the sales of juicers and blenders last year, coupled with the latest craze for cold-pressed juices, suggests that juicing and blending fruits and vegetables could be less of a passing fad in the UK and more the cementing of a solid market. Produce Business UK investigates the areas of the market that are ripe with new opportunities for buyers and suppliers of fresh produce
Whizzing up fresh produce sales
Geeta Sidhu-Robb, chief executive office and founder of juice company Nosh Detox Delivery, attributes the UK’s fondness for fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies to there being something special about natural products coming from nature.
“When you walk through a park you feel fantastic and it’s because you’ve been around nature,” she declares. “Consuming fruit and vegetables has exactly the same effect. It’s something we don’t know how to put into words.”
Little wonder then that more consumers are purchasing blenders and juicers to whizz up their own glass-full of nature in their kitchen. And whilst it’s entirely possible that the novelty could this year wear off, figures from data analyst IRI are nevertheless impressive.
During the 52 weeks to January 2, 2016, supermarket sales of these gadgets grew by 49%. Further IRI data shows an increase in sales of fresh produce items that commonly go into blenders and juicers too. For instance, sales of avocados jumped by 30.9% in value, up from £111 million at the start of 2015 to £145.5m at the start of 2016. Soft fruit sales, meanwhile, have risen from £941.9m to £1 billion – an increase of 12.2% over the same period.
Janine Hatfield, communications manager for the UK-based soft fruit growing and marketing group Berry Gardens Growers, goes as far as to say that the juicing trend may partly account for the ongoing growth of the berry market.
“During the summer months we have seen some retailers listing larger pack sizes, up to 1kg for strawberries, which perhaps reflects the use of strawberries away from the traditional dessert option to juicing and snacking,” Hatfield explains.
IRI’s figures also show that supermarket sales of greens (during the 52 weeks to January 2, 2016) grew by 12.1%; rising from £34.7m to £38.9m.
Jon Corbett, a representative for the Brassica Growers’ Association’s (BGA) Love Your Greens promotional campaign, notes that although brassica sales are clearly on the rise, it’s hard to make a definitive correlation between consumers’ love of juicing and this increase without further research. However, he does assert that the juicing trend has definitely affected consumers’ interest in brassicas, and changed the way they think about them.
Meanwhile, Martin Wood, head of strategic insight for retail solutions at IRI, agrees that certain food categories are receiving a boost from shoppers’ overall increased awareness of the health benefits of certain foods and ingredients. He says: “Typically we expect these figures at the start of the year when people adopt more healthy eating habits, but it’s interesting that our data shows growth trends across the whole year.”
Cold-pressing bright spot
Despite the fact that consumers appear to have caught the at-home juicing and blending bug, market fortunes for ready-made juices tells a slightly different story.
Market research firm Mintel observes in its 2016 Global Annual Review of the Juice and Juice Drinks Market that the global juice category has struggled to grow in recent years, with mature markets such as the US, Canada, Australia, UK and other major European markets seeing several years of retail market volume declines.
However, the report also states that in the more developed markets a “bright spot” for the category can be found in the growth of cold-pressed juices, particularly vegetable juices. This spring, Marks & Spencer, for instance, launched new range of pressed vegetable juices, including a pressed beetroot juice.
The focus on vegetables is possibly because fruit juice recently came under fire for containing large amounts of (mainly natural) sugar. Of course, the government’s forthcoming tax on soft, sugary drinks (announced in this spring’s budget) will not include fruit juices and smoothies. But a report published by BMJ Open, which investigated the amount of sugar “hidden” in drinks marketed to children, concluded that the level of sugar in current fruit juices, juice drinks and smoothies is “unacceptably high”.
Frozen in demand
Another area within the fresh produce category ripe for juicing and blending sales potential is in the frozen aisle. Supermarkets including Waitrose and Tesco have acknowledged that frozen produce is ideal for making smoothies and therefore sell bags of chopped up, frozen fruits and veggies, such as Waitrose’s LoveLife range.
The huge increase in frozen fruit tonnage over the past few years is largely due to this newfound use for fruits, according to Hatfield at Berry Gardens. “A few of our growers have frozen facilities for soft fruit (which is commonly used for smoothies),” she reveals. “Since 2012 our frozen fruit tonnage has increased by 39%, which is probably indicative of the trend towards smoothies and juicing.”
Despite this already sizeable increase in volume there are still opportunities open to suppliers, claims juice company founder Sidhu-Robb, who still struggles to source the frozen ingredients she requires.
“There are just two people we can get them from – it’s very infuriating,” she states. “I would love to make smoothies out of purely British-grown fruit but we just don’t have enough good quality, locally-grown frozen fruit here in the UK.”
Organic in short supply
Sidhu-Robb also claims some difficulty in sourcing home-grown, organic ingredients and is therefore keen to find a wholesale supplier of organic fresh produce in the UK.
“I’d like someone to be able to ask me: ‘What do you need, how would it work?’,” she says. “Suppliers could put their knowledge at our disposal and work with us. There should be a place here in the UK where it’s possible to cheaply source UK-grown produce, such as kale, that’s specifically for use in smoothies and juices.”
Certainly, organic fruit and veg box supplier Riverford has enjoyed success since officially opening its juicing category two years ago at the start of 2014. Riverford representative Emily Muddeman says: “Unit sales of items in the online juicing category are up on last year by about 23%, helped in large part by the fact we’ve had true spinach available this year but not last year. Not including true spinach, unit sales are up by 14%.
“But it’s important to bear in mind that we can’t determine how much of this increase is definitely from customers buying produce to juice. Retail sales of the 3kg apple and 5kg beetroot juicing packs are actually down on last year. But the juicing carrots are up 21%, blood oranges for juicing are up by a big 36% and regular juicing oranges are up by 9%.”
Arguably, the fresh produce sector has yet to fully capitalise on the marketing potential of the juicing and blending market. Although, if you look at the BGA’s Love Your Greens campaign, the association has included juicing in its strategy for the last three years.
Corbett says: “We know a few other [fresh produce] organisations have looked into it but it’s definitely not a widely-used [marketing] tool. In terms of the Love Your Greens campaign, we’ve definitely seen success from our activity. We chose to give consumers a fresh idea on how they can get the nutrients in brassicas.”
To that end, Corbett says BGA has given away juice samples at a number of events, including Jamie Oliver’s The Big Feastival, which he claims have always been “really well received” by the public, children included.
“We’ve had quite a few people come back to us to ask for recipes and recommendations, and that’s why juices are included in the upcoming Love Your Greens recipe book,” he adds.
Evidently, there are some people in the fresh produce sector who are celebrating this newly established market and so, for savvy buyers and suppliers looking for new business opportunities, there are certainly many avenues to be explored in juicing, blending and cold pressing.