Opinion

Fruit and veg: the stars of summer eating and drinking

05 April 2016

Liz OKeefe
Liz O’Keefe

Fresh from attending a whole host of supermarket summer press shows, food writer and chef Liz O’Keefe gives Produce Business UK readers the full lowdown on which fresh produce items will be trending in the food and drink aisles over the next few months

Spring’s hardly sprung by the time the supermarkets get their summer media press shows off the ground, and this year has been no exception. Warmer, drier weather is in the air and the good news for the horticulture industry is that fresh produce is more than taking centre stage. 

As explained in my last column, 2016 is set to be the year of vegetable and, so far, my admittedly well-researched predictions are not letting me down – although fruit seems to be grabbing the limelight along the way. Summer 2016 will definitely continue to reap the long popularity and buzz of 'clean eating', a rainbow of foods, plant-based diets and raw foods, all of which have had an effect on fresh produce aisles.

Cauliflower is everywhere, there's beetroot ‘rice’, butternut squash ‘noodles’, and exotic fruits and chillies are on the up thanks to a lean towards foods from 'the Americas', while coconut has transcended to almost God-like status. 

Healthy is definitely still on trend, with natural sugar winning the day over additives more and more. Oh, and kale is on its way out. Ah well, nothing lasts forever. 

Raw is the word

Carbs are the devil, it appears, and the supermarkets are running with the idea that hardy types of veg can replace your pasta or rice needs. They can't, of course. Carbs fill you up (that's half the problem for those of us who don't need to be filled out anymore) and shredded courgettes rarely hit that spot, unless you mix them with pasta, of course (wasn't me). 

But give me a root veg or a sturdy squash and we are, at least, halfway there. That's where Sainsbury's has hit the bull's eye with its aforementioned beetroot rice and butternut squash noodles, known affectionately as ‘boodles’. Launched in January these are set to be abundant for summer eating. The former made me very happy, as the lightly cooked beetroot, which I very satisfyingly used in a frittata to bulk it out, has an aromatic earthy taste, which adds a bit of extra flavour too. 

As well as raw vegetable sushi and a new range of raw-focused vegetables in its On The Go Salads, Sainsbury’s will launch Taste the Difference Heritage Jewel tomatoes, which are a mix of red, yellow and red-to-green baby tomatoes, and brilliant red mini beef tomatoes-on-the-vine called Taste the Difference Jubilee Vine Tomatoes – both grown by Thanet Earth in Kent.  

Feeling hot, hot, hot (at last)

Spice and heat are set to be very popular this summer and, with most supermarkets now stocking Thai chilli sauce sriracha, new product developers are looking for the next step for the British consumer. 

M&S leads the way with new fresh chillies that offer different flavour profiles. The premium retailer aims to educate the British public in using chillies for taste as well as heat. The list includes the small, red and pearl-shaped fresh Roquito peppers, native to Peru, and its lesser-known cousin, Cumari, which is yellow and hotter on the Scoville scale. 

Also featured are the citrusy but hot lemon drop, again from Peru; the particularly hot Malagueta, used in Brazil commonly; and ‘sweet heat’ jalapeños. Hopefully, we are at the start of actually getting fresh hot chillies in supermarkets. The full fresh range, mainly grown in the UK and supplied via Finlays, will be available by the end of May across its UK stores.  

Exotic is okay again

It is great to be seasonal and look after our own producers in this country, but the world is a large place full of brilliant natural foodstuffs to explore and producing regions to support. To that end, M&S is all about making whole fruit accessible this summer, a Univeg representative told me at the M&S summer show. 

“We are treating fruit as an adventure and want our customers to do so too,” he said. “It’s an education as well – we are going to box fruit, like papaya [£2.40 each], granadilla [£1.50 each] and the tree tomato, tamarillo [£1.50 each], in luxury black gift boxes, together with [usage] instructions. Some of our advice is not to treat a papaya as a fruit in the bowl; be adventurous and with cook it or put it in a salad.”

M&S will also introduce plantain and mixed Palermo peppers, as well as push forward already stocked products such as mangoes (£2 each), dragon fruit (£1.50) and the large avocado (£1.50). 

Appealing times for produce

No matter how you look at it; whether you’re a small juice producer, a deli owner or a vegetable grower, when the UK supermarkets are pushing something forward at good prices, it’s a good time to be in fresh produce. It seems that fruit and veg, in some cases anyhow, are making their way out of the lost leaders aisle and generating a premium and appeal. And I’m pretty sure, it’s only going to get better.

To accompany the supermarkets’ summer homage to rare breed and wagyu steaks prepared South American style, there are a lots of different fruit and hot sauces on the menu as well. Asda is gaining inspiration from ‘the US to the Pacific Rim’, with everything including Peru, Hawaii and the likes, in between. 

The retailer is also on a mission to spice up shoppers’ lives with its own sriracha and yuzu (an East Asian very sour citrus) sauces, along with a salad bag to put a bit of heat in the bowl, with hydrid wasabi rocket, developed exclusively for Asda.

M&S has a sweet and silky BBQ guava ketchup, which I would put on anything, and we should look forward to some fresh and ambient mango salsas and sauces to go with our (sweet potato) chips, as well as some Latin-style alcoholic drinks, like Guava & Lime Caipirinha Sparkling Fizz (5.5% ABV; 750ml).

Hot health item

Coconuts – their water, flesh, essence, flavour and very soul is in pretty much everything this summer. The day after the M&S summer press show, I happily took a coconut drink freebie on the train with me up to The Midlands. Yes, I hear you; coconut water is nothing new – where have I been? But this wasn't just any coconut water, it was the M&S pre-shaken and reinforced coconut shell ‘Fresh Drinking Coconut’, with ring pull to reveal a hole for your provided straw. 

As I cupped the coconut shell in the palms of my hands, watching the English scenery fly by and drinking £3.25 coconut water from the shell, I did wonder how far was too far... But it tasted great, and it reminded me of getting coconuts as a child (sans M&S treatment). I’d definitely buy it myself. Well, it is good for you after all (and you can eat the coconut flesh afterwards).

Other coconut-y notes of interest include a Sainsbury’s coconut ‘cheese’ made with yoghurt as an alternative for cheese for the dairy intolerant and vegans, and even an ‘American Coconut IPA’ (£1.83; 330ml) from M&S.

Kale and the Queen

You knew I was joking, right? Kale is going nowhere, although the hype has calmed down a little. Still making fruit juice green, this vegetable drink stuff is actually getting really good now. At its summer show Sainsbury’s showcased its new-for-summer green smoothie – a cold-pressed cucumber, apple, spinach and kale juice – and it was very moreish.

As part of a new produce range that celebrates the best of British through summer, Sainsbury’s has also launched some prepared colourful rainbow chard – I’m not sure why it has been prepared, but I’m hoping it’s just to introduce the product and to make it more accessible to consumers, because it would be amazing to buy it in bunches and use the pretty-veined leaves whole. 

Another point worth mentioning about this summer is the Queen’s 90th birthday. I know you already have it in your diaries, but some of the supermarkets are pulling out the stops to celebrate, with marketing akin to the jubilee a few years ago. So, expect afternoon teas galore and the best of British everything – just everyday life in England, of course.  

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