Consumers will be looking for functional benefits from produce, protein and energizing drinks in 2018, predicts Mareya Ibrahim, also known as the "Fit Foodie." Ibrahim told Food Navigator shoppers will be demanding “Swiss Army knife” multi-tasking qualities from these products.
Ibrahim singled out tart red cherries, noting they offer more antioxidants than blueberries, pomegranate juice and tea. In addition, they provide a "mega boost of anthocyanins to battle free radicals and repair cell damage." Tart cherries also are a natural source of melatonin, which can reduce pain and inflammation and even help with insomnia.
Other produce selections Ibrahim believes will attract shoppers in 2018 include camu camu, a cherry-like fruit from South America, and baobab, the fruit from the African succulent known as the "Tree of Life." Hydroponically grown vegetables, roots, seeds, hot peppers, ginger and clove round out her trend predictions.
Ibrahim is one of the many fans of tart cherries, which are lauded for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. According to Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietitian nutritionist, they play a painkilling role and can help with post-exercise muscle recovery. Cherries also are rich in melatonin, which can help improve sleep duration and quality. Marketing typically focuses on the tart cherry's antioxidant properties rather than its role as a sleep aid. This makes sense, as antioxidant-based value-adds are top of mind for today's health-conscious consumers, especially younger ones.
A study by the United Fresh Produce Association finds that visits to the supermarket for fresh foods are up compared with a year ago, while overall trips to the supermarket are down. Produce, which accounts for a third of all fresh sales, is a key driver of in-store visits and grocery store sales. According to Nielsen data presented in the UFPA report, average transaction size increases from $41 to $63 when produce is in the basket. It's no wonder that grocery stores are carrying more produce, especially unique and exotic items.
Manufacturers have been aggressively marketing the health benefits of their products. That's especially true if products have been fortified with additional nutrients or contain ingredients that are naturally high in certain health and disease-fighting or preventive properties. These include more traditional ingredients, such as blueberries, and more exotic ingredients that are breaking into the U.S., like chaga mushrooms. Other functional foods might feature on-trend ingredients like plant-based protein sources or probiotics. However, the availability of these ingredients and production capabilities can be a hindrance for manufacturers wanting to create the ideal functional product.
Exotic produce — such as papayas, mangoes, star fruit, guava, dragon fruit, lychees and longans — is gaining in popularity as Hispanic and Asian populations increase and millennials seek out more intriguing products. Supermarkets may sometimes struggle to get a steady supply of exotic fruits and vegetables, but they often benefit from carrying such items if they can get them. Specialty global produce can attract a loyal customer base as adventurous shoppers seek out new and exotic foods, according to Progressive Grocer.
Consumers are looking for tasty and interesting value-added produce. According to Nielsen Fresh, sales of these fruits and vegetables are growing faster than regular produce, making them the hottest choices in one of grocery’s most popular departments right now.
Shoppers value freshness and convenience, and these days, produce consumers can find everything from pre-cut avocados to veggie noodles and grab-and-go strawberries. Produce managers can tap into this trend by prominently displaying top sellers and promoting them through signage, store circulars and other avenues. At the same time, retailers should leave room to try some new options. Playing off the health halo of tart cherries would be a good place to start, or maybe featuring chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes — two root crops with prebiotic benefits that Ibrahim predicts will soon develop mainstream appeal.
At the same time, retailers can capitalize on produce trends and respond to customer demands. They also can educate their clientele by featuring functional produce items that are both attractive and healthier dietary options.