FRESH-CUT SEMINAR EXAMINES CATEGORY SHIFT, MATURATION

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Fresh-cut is still cutting edge -- but category growth is coming from new areas, according to statistics released by the International Fresh-cut Produce Association. Total sales for fresh-cut produce grew 8%, reaching close to $4 billion, in the 52 weeks ending Aug. 31, said a pair of speakers at IFPA's 10th Annual Fall Seminar. Craig Delaney, IFPA chairman and chief financial officer

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Fresh-cut is still cutting edge -- but category growth is coming from new areas, according to statistics released by the International Fresh-cut Produce Association. Total sales for fresh-cut produce grew 8%, reaching close to $4 billion, in the 52 weeks ending Aug. 31, said a pair of speakers at IFPA's 10th Annual Fall Seminar. Craig Delaney, IFPA chairman and chief financial officer of Ready Pac Produce, Irwindale, Calif., cited statistics from Information Resources Inc. showing fresh-cut fruit experienced the biggest jump in sales over the past year, growing 15%, even though its total take is only $243 million. By comparison, sales of fresh-cut vegetables grew 6%, to $1.2 billion.

Numerous chains have estimated that cut-fruit sales comprise up to 2.5% of total produce department sales. Sam Petro, a partner in Houston-based Country Fresh, predicted that while many supermarkets currently cut fruit in-house, they will likely outsource more business due to food-safety concerns. Apples, papayas, mangoes, kiwifruit, starfruit and oranges are expected to increase in sales over the next year, according to Petro.

Packaged salads remain the king of the category, with sales of $2.4 billion, an increase of 9%. A breakdown of sales showed blends jumping 17% to $1.1 billion. Though organic salad sales only reached $151 million, it experienced a 20% growth during that period. Romaine hearts also enjoyed a sales jump, rising 12% to total sales of $111 million. However, iceberg-based blends experienced a drop of 3% to $700 million.

In order to maintain sales of fresh-cut salads, Delaney suggested retailers reach into more households, and convince customers to purchase the products more often.

Currently, IRI data show 77% of households purchase fresh-cut salads at a rate of 1.5 units per purchase. The frequency of purchases has room to grow, however, with national averages showing the products are bought only once every 50 days.