A Fresh Take on (Shelf) Life

Rick Stein
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Originally printed in the December 2020 issue of Produce Business.

At the end of a year with unexpected turns of all kinds, consumers’ consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables is much different than it was before the global pandemic. Put simply, people want to get more out of what they have, something that extends to the actual product, usage and value.

Where does that leave perishables? Not in a bad place, actually. Growers, packers and food retailers can turn changing consumer demands into opportunities that can benefit them even if the global situation shifts again in 2021.

For example, those in the produce and retail industries can promote vegetables with a longer shelf life and educate consumers on how — and how long — they can use and eat them. As consumers are shopping less frequently and buying more products when they do visit the store or order online, they can stock up on certain varieties of vegetables and fruits that will last days or even weeks in their respective storage areas.

We know that people are already thinking of what kinds of produce they want to buy. According to FMI’s Power of Produce 2020 report, 79% of shoppers plan out and list produce purchases pre-trip. To reach these planners (and those who don’t plan, too) food retailers can serve as an important source of information to help customers pick produce that will last longer, through efforts ranging from point-of-sale signage to helpful produce department employees. The Power of Produce report confirms that 54% of Millennials and 55% of Baby Boomers look for in-store promotional signage.


In addition to providing suggestions for keeping fresh produce with a longer life in home refrigerators and countertops, the produce and retail industries have an opportunity to help consumers understand the cold chain.

In addition to providing suggestions for keeping fresh produce with a longer life in home refrigerators and countertops, the produce and retail industries have an opportunity to help consumers understand the cold chain. This doesn’t have to be technical or get into granular details of shipping and storage, but outreach efforts via social media, personal customer interactions and other communications channels can provide insights on the different requirements of fruits and vegetables to optimize the life of those items. Where should I store potatoes? Do I have to chill berries? Should I keep my vegetables in plastic in the crisper drawer? Why do I need to keep avocados away from bananas?

Another way to help consumers extend their use of vegetables — and buy more of such items when they are shopping in-store or online — is to offer convenience-oriented products. Consumers find these items appealing: research from the Power of Produce shows that value-added vegetables are a $11.2 billion market and value-added fruits are a $2.9 billion market. Keeping a container of pre-cut melon or a sealed bag of salad on hand helps consumers as they look for easy meal solutions, especially as they are eating at home more often and are suffering a bit of cooking and meal prep fatigue during the nearly year-long pandemic.

Of course, there is a balance between value and convenience. Here, too, it doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive, as consumers can discover ways to get the most out of their fresh vegetables for better value. They may not be going out to shop as often, but they can keep fruits and vegetables they are buying in a state that can be kept longer. For instance, if they are buying a large container of greens, they can use any extra greens to juice a beverage and then freeze the juice for later. The same is true for a large value-priced box of citrus fruits that can have multiple uses in refrigerated and frozen form. Give them ideas, and shoppers will run with them.

If nothing else, 2020 taught everyone — consumers and those in the food and retail industries — that creativity and an ability to adapt is key to moving forward.

On behalf of everyone at FMI, I wish you a healthy, safe holiday season and extend our gratitude to those who work to make the U.S. food supply a source of sustenance and pride.

Rick Stein is vice president, fresh foods, for the Food Marketing Institute (FMI). Follow him @Ricks_FreshFood. Visit www. FMI.org/FreshFoodswww.FMI.org/Store.

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