The popularity of value-added produce has spawned a new incarnation of the service at a growing number of food retailers, where “produce butchers” are peeling, slicing, dicing and otherwise processing any fruits or vegetables customers ask for.
The service was promoted as a signature offering at a new Whole Foods Market location in Midtown Manhattan, but it’s been around at some other high-end food retail outlets for a while.
Italian-themed retail/restaurant chain Eataly, for example, offers to process produce for customers at its outlets, and in Canada, gourmet food retailer Pusateri’s Fine Foods launched its first produce butcher stations at two locations it opened last November.
“We like to have services for our guests that are elevated, and that communicate that our stores are a very different food experience,” said Angus McOuat, VP of merchandising and marketing at Pusateri's.
As more and more consumers are seeking to incorporate fruits and vegetables into their diets, offering on-demand produce processing seeks to make it easier for them to do so.
“We wanted to provide a value-added service to our customers to allow them to eat healthier in a more convenient way,” said McOuat.
In addition, the produce butchers add an element of theater and energy to the stores, he said. As part of the program, the produce processing that traditionally had occurred in the back room has been moved out where customers can watch.
“We wanted customers to see the time and care that we take with our produce,” said McOuat. “It’s all market-fresh, brought in by our experts, and then processed in store, and we wanted to give customers the opportunity to see us actually chop the fruit that we put into the containers.”
He said the produce butcher service has been very well received by customers, and Pusateri’s is considering expanding the offering to additional locations going forward.
Cara Mangini, a former vegetable butcher at Eataly who wrote a book on chopping produce called The Vegetable Butcher, said consumers often lack knowledge about preparing produce, especially less common varieties such as kohlrabi and celery root.
“Working with vegetables can be intimidating,” she told SN. “I don’t think most of us learned how to handle every vegetable that’s out there, so some support is really helpful for people.”
Customers at Eataly also were often curious about different ways of working with more common vegetables, or were simply looking to save time in the kitchen, said Mangini, who now owns a veggie-centric restaurant called Little Eater in Columbus, Ohio, along with a specialty store called Produce & Provisions.
At Produce & Provisions, Mangini said she decided not to offer an in-store produce butcher service and instead focuses on educating customers about how to work with fresh produce.
“We are telling or showing them how to do it, so they can make cooking with vegetables second nature in their home,” she said. “We’re giving them the tools to do it, and setting them up for a lifetime of cooking with vegetables.”
Educating customers about how to incorporate vegetables in home cooking is also an important part of the offering at Pusateri’s, said McOuat.
“We try to make it a fully engaging experience,” he said. “We coach our team members to interact with customers and help them make the most out of the product they are buying that day.”
One key difference with the offering at Whole Foods is the cost — while the service at Eataly and Pusateri’s is free, Whole Foods is charging $1 per pound, according to reports.
McOuat said that even though there is an additional labor investment, he thinks the offering is driving incremental sales at Pusateri’s.
“Some people might have chosen not to buy produce on that particular day because of the work involved to prepare it,” he said. “If we take that one step out of it, it makes it easier for them to buy produce and it grows our sales, and it helps elevate their experience in the store.”