Vegetables sneak on to the plate with manufacturing innovations
Tots, pouches and pizza join canned, frozen and fresh varieties.
Mashed cauliflower. Zucchini spirals. Sweet potato rice. New takes on old favorites we’re hearing more about these days. A key driver: desire for health and wellness.
Consumers increasingly are seeking nutrition from food rather than fortification. More Americans are practicing clean eating and giving better-for-you products a try. Unhealthy grains and no-nutrition carbs are being shunned in favor of healthier food options, which include adding more fruit and vegetables to the American diet.
Don’t think shifts in food buying and eating behavior have gone unnoticed by consumer packaged goods manufacturers either. A growing roster of new products is emerging on the scene with some common goals in mind: Make it convenient, tasty, and oh yes, nutritious. In other words, help consumers quickly and easily get a “square meal” on the table.
Vegetable intake needs a boost
A 2015 “State of the Plate” study by Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), found that per capita vegetable consumption declined 7% in a five-year period from 2009 to 2014. The drop, in part, is attributed to fewer side dishes being served with the family meal.
The USDA recommends eating about five cups of fruit and vegetables daily. The reality is that the average American eats less than two cups a day. Just 1% of adults and 2% of children meet both the daily fruit and vegetable guidelines, according to PBH. Furthermore, the CDC says nine out of 10 kids don’t eat enough vegetables.
This presents a huge opportunity for brand marketers to step up and fill the void by using vegetables or fruit/veggie combinations in new and creative ways that make it easy and convenient for consumers to get their daily intake.
Old names, new product innovation
To help snap the downward trend in vegetable consumption and put consumers on a healthier eating path, brand marketers including a rejuvenated Green Giant, now part of B&G Foods since it was acquired from General Mills late last year, and Archer Daniels Midland are rolling out innovative products, featuring a new twist on veggies.
Hitting store shelves this month is a reinvigorated Green Giant brand, which is introducing a modern take on yesterday’s side dishes. A new line of frozen vegetable products includes Mashed Cauliflower, Riced Veggies, Roasted Veggies and Veggie Tots.
“We used a combination of market research, observational research—we even scoured social media—to study consumer habits and demands,” Jordan Greenberg, VP and general manager at Green Giant wrote in an email to Food Dive. “We’re seeing that consumers are not only looking for healthy alternatives to starchy dishes, but they’re also preparing and eating vegetables in different ways than their parents did—they’re looking for both fresh and convenient. We also found that mothers are especially interested in how to introduce vegetables into their children’s diets in ways that they will find appealing as well as healthy.”
Greenberg went on.
“And we don’t see this trend dying down any time soon,” he wrote. “Pinterest’s top food trends predictions for 2016, ‘The Pinterest 100,’ said that people will continue to cut calories by swapping veggies for their favorite carbs, meats and more.”
The WILD Flavors & Specialty Ingredients (WFSI) unit of ADM has launched some new still drinks and fruit juices that feature a variety of vegetables. Unique flavor combinations – such as orange/pumpkin/ginger, cucumber/kiwi/spinach and red beet/strawberry, to name a few – give consumers new taste experiences and a healthy boost. The still drinks have a fruit content of 27% and 3% vegetable. Vegetable content in the new juices range from 10% to 38%. A single portion counts toward the “five a day” USDA recommendation, making WSFI’s new Fruit & Veggie products fit into a balanced diet.
Better-for-you brands throw hats into ring
Some relative newcomers are tossing their names into the proverbial “vegetable as ingredient” ring as well.
In time for the new school year, organic baby food manufacturer Sprout Foods has introduced a squeezable pouch snack for school-age kids called Sprout Organic SMASH. The new items come in the same twist-off and re-sealable packaging as other Sprout infant and toddler products. Fruit & Veggie varieties – Berry Blast and Very Banana Berry – contain 25% whole vegetables per pouch. Sweet-tasting fruity flavors mask an organic vegetable blend of butternut squash, spinach, sweet potatoes and zucchini to help pack a much-needed veggie punch in kids’ diets.
“Parents are looking to expose their children to a variety of vegetables and fruits early on and seek to foster a love of healthy eating,” Sprout Foods VP of Marketing Sunita Adams wrote in an email to Food Dive. “Sprout SMASH was developed with this in mind. It combines a variety of whole fruits and vegetables to provide a delicious snack that we know kids will love.”
Better-for-you snack maker Boulder Canyon Authentic Foods, known for its Baked Sweet Potato Fries and Baked Veggie Sticks, is entering the frozen foods fray with a range of Riced Vegetables.
“As it relates to ricing, we saw that trend start several years ago in home kitchens across the nation an alternative to grain rice,” Boulder Canyon’s senior vice president and general manager Steve Sklar wrote in an email to Food Dive. “Much of that was driven by an interest in lowering the calorie and carb impact that comes with traditional rice. In fact, if you look at sales of dry pasta, which has declined for most of the past decade, it’s clear we consumers are avoiding carbs to some degree and riced veggies fit naturally within this trend.”
Boulder Canyon’s new products are microwave-ready and made from one primary ingredient: 100% real vegetables. Varieties include broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, sweet potato and various seasoned options like Cilantro Lime Cauliflower and Thai Curry Carrot. Each portion counts as a full serving of vegetables according to USDA guidelines.
Los Angeles-based Oh Yes! Foods, launched in 2012, offers a healthy take on frozen pizza by incorporating 12 fruits and vegetables – including kale, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, butternut squash and more – right in the crust and sauce. Each pizza provides anywhere from 3 to 5 daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. The company slogan is “Who Says a Square Meal Can’t be Round?”
“The retailer and consumer response to Oh Yes! pizzas has been phenomenal,” founder Chip Milam wrote in an email to Food Dive. “People want their pizza but like that they’re obtaining nutrients when eating it. It doesn’t have to be a sometimes food. One serving of Oh Yes! pizza contains as much vitamin C as a cup of raw blueberries and as much fiber as a cup of instant oatmeal”
“Americans are obese and trying to eat better. However, the average consumer doesn’t want to give up their favorite foods that might not be healthy or further contribute to weight gain,” Milam wrote. “As a result, those of us in the food business are trying to create ‘better-for-you’ options that incorporate fruit and vegetables and provide nutrition, not just empty calories.”
Vegetable-packed products indeed can be an all-around win-win-win: Good for manufacturers and retailers in terms of product innovation and new growth streams, and good for consumers in terms of convenient and healthy food options.