- According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, per capita consumption of fresh cauliflower is estimated at 2.18 pounds in 2017, up 38% from 1.57 pounds in 2016 and up 63% from 1.33 pounds in 2010.
- This growth comes after a relatively quiet two years for the cauliflower market. Nielsen Perishables reported that cauliflower grew 8% annually from 2011 to 2016, up to $357 million, but has been flat since.
- Consistent with this recent consumption increase is general curiosity about the vegetable in general. In 2017, the phrase “cauliflower rice” saw a 60% jump in U.S. search queries, according to Google Trends.
In 2017, Time declared cauliflower as the new “it” vegetable and Bloomberg called it “the new kale.” But these declarations came amid flat sales, indicating a bit of a disconnect between what industry experts were seeing and what consumers were wanting.
Judging by the vegetable’s staggering growth last year, the experts weren’t wrong — they were just early. Cauliflower’s sudden surge could very well be a case of the cart coming before the horse. Demand and intrigue have been there for a few years, but opportunities were not abundant.
That is quickly changing. A purchase limit was put on cauliflower rice at some Trader Joe’s locations shortly after its introduction. Caulipower’s 2017 debut at Natural Products Expo West led to its cauliflower pizza crusts’ distribution in nearly 9,000 stores and a major investment has yielded new products from the company, including a baking mix. This year’s Expo West featured cauliflower on “center stage,” according to Project NOSH, with everything from cauliflower chips to cauliflower pretzels.
Cauliflower is in a good position to leverage a number of growing trends. It is healthy, low-carb and full of fiber. It is a logical alternative to grains, which have been blamed for digestive and other health issues by consumers pushing the gluten-free trend. And because of its versatility, cauliflower also fits in well with the growing vegan demographic. According to a report by GlobalData, there has been a 600% increase in people identifying as vegans in the U.S. in the last three years.
Despite some innovations hitting the market, cost remains a bit of a hindrance. There is a limited supply of cauliflower and demand is expected to drive prices higher. Also, because the vegetable contains very little starch, reformulation can also be tricky. From the Ground Up COO Vincent James told FoodNavigator-USA that its cauliflower-based crackers and pretzels require specialized equipment and took almost two years to develop.
Cauliflower has come a long way in the last two years. If manufacturers can continue to present more cauliflower opportunities despite these challenges, the vegetable still has a way to go before reaching its full potential.