Originally printed in Produce Business magazine.
The fresh produce industry is undergoing a sea change of innovation. New products not seen before in produce departments, technologies, meal solutions, food-safety measures, sustainable packaging and new varieties of fruits and vegetables are affording consumers more choices than ever.
To be sure — it’s an exciting time, not only for consumers but for suppliers, wholesalers, retailers, foodservice distributors/operators and service providers. To that end, Produce Business has been keeping a close eye on innovation in all its iterations.
Chronicling the most up-to-date evolutions in marketing, merchandising, management and procurement is part of our mission and obligation to readers. For the 3rd year, we have endeavored to illuminate innovation on the pages of our November issue. Not surprisingly, many of the North America award-winners for 2019 adhere to the ‘better for you and the environment’ mantra that has been gaining momentum over the past decade. The overall champion will be announced at the keynote breakfast during the New York Produce Show and Conference in New York City on Dec. 12.
The judging, which took place in the office of Produce Business, was conducted by editors and staff who are well-versed in the fresh produce industry. Each item sent to our office was thoroughly examined, unwrapped, smelled, tasted and, in some cases, cooked. Our goal was to judge the intrinsic value of the product itself and ask whether a consumer — and the industry at large — would truly value the innovation presented before us.
Now, let’s meet this year’s 10 top-scoring products and tip our hats to innovation — the juggernaut of change:
Baldor Specialty Foods
Urban Roots takes the plant-forward meal movement to another level. This new retail collection of freshly prepared, quick-to-make, flavor-packed veggie side kits features cleaned and prepped high-quality ingredients, pre-measured herbs and spices, sauces and fresh garnishes, all in one compact container.
It’s a series of chef-inspired international dishes, such as Moroccan Spiced Cauliflower Rice, Sweet & Spicy Veggie Noodles or Moroccan Spiced Cauliflower Rice. The easy-to-make recipes are available in two-easy-to-find ways: on local grocery store shelves — Whole Foods Market and ShopRite are two of its carriers — and through home delivery services, including Peapod, FreshDirect and Jet.com.
This is Baldor’s first foray into retail. With its extensive distribution expertise, Baldor is able to transport the vegetables from cutting boards to refrigerated supermarket shelves in less than 24 hours.
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: We are especially impressed with the chef-created recipes, restaurant-caliber tasting dishes, ease of preparation and attention to detail. We prepared all 6 products and found they are easy to make in minutes and tasted precisely as advertised.
LivingCube Vertical Growing System
In late 2017, DelFresco Pure partnered with Langley, BC-based CubicFarm Systems Inc. to test a module of automated vertical farming units that continuously produce living lettuce, living basil and microgreens all year long. In early 2018, DelFresco Pure installed the LivingCube system, which has 12 mechanized growing, germination and irrigation machines, each built inside proprietary insulated 40’ stainless steel growing chambers.
This system is environmentally sustainable due to its minimal land footprint, a reduction in greenhouse gases, the use of recycled water and pesticide-free integration.
Now the “fruits” of DelFresco’s labors come to retail shelves in packages of 5 different living lettuces (Butter Lettuce, Romaine, Spring, Merlot Medley and Trio Blend), living basil and micro greens. Branded as LivingCube, the products offer consumers three heads of living product with roots attached in a tray that can be kept in the refrigerator or placed on a counter to continue growing.
The product’s packaging is innovative in itself as it acts as a “dependable safehouse” for the living greens that guarantees freshness.
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: “This product was beautiful. On its own it could be a centerpiece, but on top of that, the lettuce was fresh and really tasty,” notes one judge.
Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A., Inc.
Coral Gables, FL
Developed to meet the needs of Millennial consumers who increasingly look for solutions that help them to incorporate more produce during lunch, Del Monte’s new Better Break™ convenience line meets consumer demand in a groundbreaking way.
Created to minimize prep time, Better Break™ also provides a wholesome choice for consumers aiming to enjoy a quick, convenient and healthy lunch or snack option.
Available nationwide, these chef-inspired easy-prep meals hit all the right touchpoints:
- Better Break™ products are based on fresh vegetables and contain 130 calories or less per serving.
- Easy to prepare in just three minutes — heat & eat, microwave-safe packaging ensures a quick snack or small, healthy meal is ready to go at a moment’s notice.
- Comprised of wholesome and delicious veggies, such as cauliflower, kohlrabi, broccoli, sweet potato, kale and corn, and a flavorful sauce, the line offers both vegetarian and plant-based options, packed with 4g of protein per serving.
The new chef-inspired meals are available in three varieties:
- Spicy Pomodoro, made with kohlrabi linguine and chunky, spicy chipotle pepper tomato sauce
- Zesty Green Chile, with kohlrabi, cauliflower, kale, chickpea and bell peppers tossed in a tangy green chile sauce
- Summer Corn, with cauliflower, broccoli, sweet potato, kale and corn sauce with roasted corn and bell pepper
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: According to our judges, the packaging of Better Break™ immediately strikes you as a winner on the retail shelves. The clean-looking graphics, font, colors and white background are easy to read and enticing. The product itself was easy to assemble and was tasty. “Hard to believe everything was so good and less than 130 calories per serving.”
Plastic-free Long English Cucumber
With a commitment toward meeting consumer demand for less plastic waste, Houweling’s Group has partnered with Goleta, CA-based Apeel Sciences to offer a “plastic free” Long English Cucumber that brings all the refreshing flavor without the need for single-use plastic.
Using Apeel’s plant-based technology — a natural vegetable coating that keeps water in the cucumber and carbon dioxide out — Houwelings has replaced the single-use plastics wraps on cucumber, while ensuring the same shelf-life quality to the end consumer.
The coating is completely safe, odorless, and tasteless and undetectable by touch. It is estimated in the first year this will save upward of 60,000 pounds of plastic.
Houwelings says this is the first example of using Apeel technology to reduce functional plastic packaging and will serve as a model for others.
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: “As a consumer of Long English Cucumbers, I was thrilled to see this breakthrough technology. This is game-changing and I can’t wait until it’s ubiquitous.”
Jac. Vandenberg, Inc.
Sunrays Plastic-Free Packs
In an effort to create a brighter future for our children and the planet, Jac. Vandenberg has developed innovative, plastic-free packaging for its Sunrays Branded Clementines.
The company has already been awarded and honored as the first food and beverage product in the United States to carry the world’s first Plastic Free Trust Mark. Produced in mills where virtually all the energy is generated from biomass and made from 100% virgin tree fibers, Vandenberg’s plastic-free packs start out in a natural state and stay natural. These packs are game-changers in reducing carbon footprint while also reducing single-use plastic waste. The packs are 100% recyclable and biodegradable.
For more than 60 years, Jac. Vandenberg has been a family-owned marketer of premium produce. Sourcing the world over, the company’s products include Clementines, apples, cherries, plums, pears, kiwi, persimmons and grapes, among others. Now, the company is poised for greater growth in a highly competitive market where sustainable solutions are in demand.
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: “I really applaud this new packaging. Not only is it on-trend and innovative, it’s also attractive and adds a great deal to the product’s appeal.”
Ready Cycle Strawberry Clamshells
Markon Cooperative has 30 years of foodservice innovation under its belt, and now the company is introducing the first of its new line of packaging intended to move the produce industry away from plastic, beginning with its strawberry cartons.
Throughout the summer, Markon’s attractive, sturdy cardboard boxes, developed in collaboration with Watsonville, CA-based Sambraillo, have been field tested with Watsonville, CA-based California Giant Berry Farms. The company plans to introduce the innovative, smooth edge packaging to its customers soon.
This latest Markon innovation is a byproduct of the company’s initiative to reduce the amount of plastic in its supply chain as well as increase recyclability. By converting the plastic First Crop strawberry clamshells to cardboard, which features vegetable-based printing and is fully recyclable, nearly 30 tons of plastic will be saved from going into landfills or oceans.
JUDGES‘ COMMENTS: “I can’t believe how attractive and sturdy this packaging is. The design is incredible, and it does everything plastic can and more, plus it’s better for the environment.”
Mastronardi / Sunset
Sprinkles, Tiny Mighty Tomatoes
Snacking tomatoes is the fastest-growing category segment in tomatoes, and Sunset continues to be a leading growth-driver.
The company’s newest innovation, Sprinkles, Tiny Mighty Tomatoes, combines premium produce with convenience for an innovative snacking solution. The tomatoes are micro-grapes that explode with sweet flavor.
They’re the ideal size for grabbing by the handful. The unique packaging holds the perfect amount of tomatoes for a salad or kids’ lunches.
The company also includes an easy-pull tab on the top seal to ensure little fingers have quick access to their snack at recess or whenever the urge to snack strikes. This winter, Sprinkles will be available in a medley of four colors — brown, orange, yellow and red.
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: “These Tiny Mighty Tomatoes are aptly named. Truly adorable, they have a powerful, sweet flavor that makes them irresistible.”
S. Katzman Produce
Americans are discovering Hamona Coconuts, and the product is already making inroads across several retail channels.
S. Katzman Produce has partnered with Markham, Ontario-based Highwide International and is handling the distribution of this innovative product in the United States. The Hamona Coconut is a young coconut, which makes the water and meat inside extra sweet and mouthwatering.
The coconut is shaved down until just the thin shell of the nut remains, making it very easy to open with just a spoon. A straw is attached, and it is remarkably easy to insert into the coconut.
For consumers the message is simple: Drink it, crack it and eat it. The product, which has been called ‘Nature’s Juice Box,’ is 100% raw coconut water with no added sugars or preservatives. Featuring a host of healthy properties, Hamona Coconuts boost hydration and are rich in five electrolytes: sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. It’s also low in cholesterol and fat free.
Available year-round, this product’s true innovation is the way it is accessorized and then enjoyed.
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: For one judge, it was love at first sip. “I was hooked when I saw how easy it is to insert the straw and drink it, but cracking it open and eating the Hamona Coconut meat sealed the deal.”
Ultra-Premium, single-serve Organic Dressings
Created by star chef and farmer, Eberhard Mueller, these premium single-serve organic dressings have a particular appeal to the health-conscious consumer.
Mueller, who in 1985 skyrocketed to fame after receiving four stars from The New York Times as Le Bernardin’s opening chef, worked with Satur Farms to create the dressings as a complement to the company’s greens.
With innovate, colorful and convenient packaging that attracts attention from the outset, these dressings are portioned into 1-ounce, single-serve packets and sold in packs of six.
Convenient to use and bursting with flavor, Satur’s dressings are available in four options — Citrus, Spicy Asian, White Truffle and Honey Balsamic. The dressings, which are organic, non-GMO, gluten-free and made exclusively with clean ingredients, are available to retail and foodservice.
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: “The flavors are incredible. I actually tried all of the dressings and love the taste. The single-serve packaging is perfect for the product and speaks to its ultra-premium label.”
La Jolla, CA
Solely uses a patented cold-pressing process to transform fresh, organic produce into a delicious, all natural, single portion, jerky snack. The eating experience is akin to biting into a candy bar in texture, but with the aroma and taste of fresh fruit.
Each strip is the equivalent of a whole fruit, without added sugars, concentrates or sulfites. The company’s plant-forward philosophy has resulted in a line that is vegan, kosher, non-GMO and USDA organic.
Innovative and convenient, fruit jerky comes in a variety of vibrant flavors. Its innovative packaging design is minimalistic and meant to offer a long shelf life while minimizing the products’ carbon footprint. Solely has plans to roll out a wide variety of items across multiple categories.
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Judges cited the product’s vibrant and fresh taste, good-for-you attributes, convenience and outstanding package design as standout features. “This is perfect for kids’ lunches or as a quick snack for on-the-go adults,” notes one commentary.