A Can-Do Attitude

April 14, 2010
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Despite the good news of an economic recovery on the horizon, many consumers continue to hold back on spending when it comes to what they eat - and are cooking at home more often. Thankfully, canned foods offer the value and shelf-stability these consumers are looking for during these rough times.

“Canned Fruit & Vegetable Processing in the U.S.,” a February 2010 report from IBISWorld, Santa Monica, Calif., notes that canned products have lost some ground to fresh varieties over recent years, thanks to advances in storage and transportation that have made fresh produce readily available and affordable throughout the United States. But canned fruit and vegetables still boast a few advantages, the report says, including a lower cost and a much longer shelf life.

Moreover, the economic downturn has reversed the downward sales trend in canned fruit and vegetables, at least temporarily, the report says.

“While the sluggish economy will continue to support this industry through 2010, the anticipated recovery is expected to result in a return to slow declines,” the report adds. “While the industry is forecast to recede at an average of 2.1 percent per year through 2014 to $30.6 billion, the products of this industry are a staple of the American diet and will be present on supermarket shelves for many more years.”

And fortunately for retailers, most consumers understand that private label canned fruits and vegetables offer the same product quality as the national brands’, but at a lower price. No wonder private label is a step ahead of the game in terms of sales. Data from Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI) show that in the 52 weeks ending Jan. 24, dollar sales in the overall canned/bottled vegetable category increased 6.0 percent, while dollar sales of private label canned/bottled vegetables rose 11.6 percent.
And although dollar sales in the overall canned/bottled fruit category dropped 2.3 percent, dollar sales of private label canned/bottled fruit rose 1.8 percent (supermarkets, drugstore and mass market retailers, excluding Walmart, club stores and c-stores).

Maureen Marcason, vice president of retail sales at Mitsui Foods, Norwood, N.J., notes that many consumers currently are looking for the lowest-priced canned fruit and vegetables on the shelf.

“People just look at the price,” she says. “They kind of know that the private label product is just as good as the national brand in most cases, so it’s not like they’re worrying about what they’re getting inside of the can. They’re looking at the price.”

But although low prices remain an important draw for value-conscious consumers, “Canned/Preserved Food – US,” an October 2009 report from Euromonitor International, Chicago, states that the lack of variety is a deterrent for canned/preserved food, which sees fewer new product developments than the faster-growing chilled and frozen categories. Some companies, however, are coming up with innovative new canned fruit and vegetable products.

For example, Siloam Springs, Ark.-based Allens Inc. understands that even though they’re looking to spend less, consumers still want foods that take them back to simpler times. Bobby Ray, senior vice president of retail sales and marketing, says Allens recently released a line of seasoned Southern-style canned vegetables and beans that smell and taste like “the comfort food grandma made years ago.” The gluten-free line includes Seasoned Mixed Greens, Squash with Vidalia onions, Triple Succotash (a blend of tomatoes, corn and butter beans), Hoppin’ John (a mixture of black-eyed peas, tomatoes, onions and jalapeno peppers) and more.

Although Allens currently does not offer the line for retailers’ private label programs, a company spokesperson says retailers could partner with the manufacturer to create products similar to the ones offered in the line.

A Wealth of Health

Along with foods that comfort, consumers also want products that help them maintain a healthy lifestyle. Mike Dunleavy, vice president of corporate affairs and public relations at Crown Holdings Inc., Philadelphia, says consumers are looking for more healthful canned fruit and vegetables.

“We have seen more introductions of lower-sodium, all-natural products, or products that are high in protein or fiber,” he says. “Canned fruits and vegetables lend themselves well to this trend, since they reinforce portion control and allow families on a budget to enjoy healthful fruits and vegetables.”

Dunleavy points to The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company’s (A&P) America’s Choice fat-free peach halves and Whole Foods Market’s 365 brand no-salt-added garbanzo beans as excellent examples of healthful private label options.

Dunleavy also mentions that retailers have been placing a greater emphasis on convenience-enhancing packaging features, particularly with single-serve canned fruit snacks.

“Easy-to-open servings allow consumers to enjoy their favorite fruits and vegetables wherever they go,” he says, adding that A&P offers fruit cocktail snacks that come in 8.25-ounce cans with easy-open ends.

In addition to convenience-enhancing features, Dunleavy says cans should sport enticing labels, which make even the most ordinary can of fruit or vegetables look all the more enjoyable. He especially likes the vivid images of fresh fruits and vegetables on Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market’s canned fruit and vegetable packaging.

“The images on the package help draw consumers’ attention and communicate the freshness and quality of the products,” Dunleavy says.

Shaped cans offer a way to differentiate products on shelf, too.

“Canned fruits and vegetables take on a premium look with the use of shaped packages,” Dunleavy explains. “Cans with an ergonomic curve or hourglass shape reinforce a sense of health and wellness, while bowl-shaped cans add a sense of comfort and convenience.”

Communicate the Benefits

Retailers also could add a sense of comfort and convenience by communicating the sustainability benefits of metal packaging to consumers on labels. Dunleavy notes that metal not only is 100 percent recyclable, but also can be recycled an infinite number of times without any degradation in the end package’s quality.

Labels also can communicate other information. Rich Tavoletti, executive director of the Canned Food Alliance (CFA), Pittsburgh, suggests that showing how to store or prepare a can of fruit or vegetables could increase a product’s sales potential.

“The CFA’s most recent Rutgers study confirmed that moms flounder when it comes to basic kitchen know-how,” he notes. “However, what the study also showed was when given a roadmap for healthy meal prep, grocery shopping, kitchen organization and food storage practices, positive changes were made.”

Another way to market canned fruit and vegetables is to cross-promote. Evan Hyman, general manager, marketing and business planning at Mitsui, says Mandarin oranges pair well with salads.

Marcason adds that pineapple goes well with cake mixes, especially during major holidays. And if a retailer is going to have a sale on its canned fruit and vegetables, it should run the sale after a national brand’s sale, she says.

“Never try to run a sale at the same time [as the national brands], because you can’t compete,” she says. “If there’s a choice between private label and a national brand, consumers are going to buy the national brand.” PLB

SIDEBAR: Give Mom the Tools She Needs

A 2009 Rutgers University study, commissioned by the Canned Food Alliance (CFA) of Pittsburgh, found that moms want - and need - a better grasp of kitchen basics. Moms who were given a roadmap for healthful meal preparation, grocery shopping, kitchen organization and food storage practices made positive changes in providing “nourishing, great-tasting meals,” according to the study.

Conducted among a sample of New Jersey moms with young children (New Jersey is a diversely populated state that reflects national demographics), the study entailed interviews to identify the basic kitchen and food requirements of each mother, CFA says.


Surveyed moms said they wanted and needed:

• Ideas for easy, quick and healthful meals that include the use of short-cut ingredients such as canned foods.

• Time-saving tips on healthful food preparation, ingredients and alternatives, methods and techniques.

• Cost-effective strategies to help them get the most nutrition from their food dollar.

“Previous research showed that there is a disconnect between what families are keeping on hand and what they’re actually turning into meals,” said Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, Ph.D., RD, FADA and lead researcher for Rutgers’ Nutritional Sciences Department. “This study reinforced the idea that moms need help putting nutritious meals on the table, and after evaluating the data, Rutgers researchers developed educational tools to help moms be the family nutrition hero that they desire to be.”

Those educational tools come together in the “Essential Kitchen Toolkit,” created by CFA and nutrition author and educator Roberta L. Duyff, MS, RD, FADA. Available to moms and other home cooks everywhere on CFA’s www.mealtime.org, the toolkit includes a “Choose Canned” section that not only educates shoppers, but also serves up facts that savvy retailers could use to promote the virtues of canned fruit and vegetables.

A few tidbits:

• “Canned fruits and vegetables have no inedible peels, leaves, stalks or seeds to trim and discard.”

• “Fresh isn’t always more nutritious. In fact, canned fruits and vegetables are comparable in nutrition to their cooked fresh and frozen forms, according to a University of Illinois study.”

The toolkit offers an abundance of other canned-good related content from which retailers could borrow, including pantry-stocking tips, recipe ideas and much more.

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