Eye On The National Brands
One way to get your kids to eat more fruit: Turn it into dessert. Dole has added a sugar-free version of its fruit and gelatin in the popular cup containers. Mixed fruit in cherry gel and pineapple in strawberry gel are now available in addition to the five flavors with sugar added. Dole also has three flavors of Squish’ems, a squeezable fruit snack targeted at kids.
It’s tough to get excited about a can.
By their very nature, canned fruits and vegetables are about convenience, keeping the kitchen well-stocked and providing staples in consumer’s everyday diet. With the country’s increased focus on obesity and healthy eating, fresh vegetables have experienced strong growth in the past five years—up 22 percent since 2005 according to a 2011 report by Mintel International Group Ltd., Chicago.
From the White House vegetable garden to farmer’s markets and “locavor” food culture, fresh fruits and veggies are getting plenty of attention. Canned just hasn’t gotten the same press.
But that’s not so say that canned fruits and vegetables are suffering. While fresh vegetables make up 81.4 percent of the market (according to Mintel), canned vegetables still account for nearly $2.4 billion in sales, according to a SymphonyIRI Group 52-week survey ending on Jan. 22, 2012. That’s up slightly (.68 percent) from the pervious year. Canned/bottled fruit had $1.6 billion in sales, according to the same survey. And while that’s down 2.2 percent from the previous year, private label sales actually rose 2.2 percent in the category, reflecting consumer’s migration to private label in the category.
“Overall, we’ve seen canned vegetable sales as steady,” says Todd Eucke, marking manager at Lakeside Foods, Manitowoc, Wis. “But our private label sales did grow. Unit sales were up 5.2 percent in 2011 over 2010. While overall branded sales saw a decline of 20.7 percent.”
While the economy has continued to struggle, price point has been a major factor in consumers choosing more private label products.
“I think there’s a certain share of wallet the people are going to spend,” Eucke says. “If people are going to indulge, they’re going to do it somewhere else in the store. They’re not going to spend extra money on a can of corn that’s branded. There are other indulgences that are more rewarding.”
But that’s not to say price point is the only factor.
“Price point is key, but quality, service and reliability are also important,” says Tami Gross, sales & marketing manager at Pacific Coast Producers, Lodi, Calif. “Products cannot just show up under a customer brand and do well if they are low priced. Consumers have to have confidence in the private brand…Retailers that buy on price alone are often disappointed as their consumers spread the bad quality experience news like a virus.”
“Price point remains a key and driving factor in consumer purchase decisions,” says David Brown, director of retail sales for Allens, Siloam Springs, Ark. “The performance of private label canned fruits and vegetables are continuing to grow significantly based on price point, and we don’t expect to see that trend shift in the near future.”
Maintaining quality, though, is important as consumers develop a trust in the store brand.
“Growth also stems from consumer loyalty,” Brown says. “This responsibility of gaining and retaining consumer loyalty lies with the retailer. Retailers need to successfully advertise their store brand, as well as require manufacturing partners to provide the highest quality possible.”
Canned vegetables tend to focus on the traditional mainstays—corn, beans and mixed vegetables. A shortage in sweet peas earlier this year was a challenge for producers, according to Brown, but despite that setback, Allen’s overall sales of vegetables are still up.
While canned vegetables have been traditionally—almost by definition—basic, more producers are adding seasonings and flavors to help make the products more analogous to ready-made meals.
You see this trend in canned tomatoes, which have grown to include all kinds of preparations—like chili ready, fire-roasted and Italian flavored.
“Consumers are finding that canned (tomatoes) are fresher, last longer, cost less, taste better and are a sensible alternative to high-cost, poor tasting, greenhouse-gassed fresh tomatoes,” Gross says. “The organic tomatoes are doing especially well over the past three years. We cannot seem to pack enough product.”
“One big trend we’re seeing continues to be ready-to-eat types of canned food— products with seasoning already in them, such as our popular seasoned-style Southern line,” Brown says. “We find consumers love being able to heat and eat the product right out of the can, without having to add any additional ingredients.”
Canned vegetables, like much of the rest of the supermarket, are also adding more ethnic flavors to the shelves.
“The American palate is seeking stronger seasoning profiles,” Brown says. “Consumers love the minimal preparation involved with these products.”
Expect to see more fire-roasted and chipotle-infused mixes coming to market. But there is a danger when consumer expectations are not met.
“We’ve seen branded players move into some ethnic lines of canned goods,” Eucke says. “They had all the packaging and new flavors that seemed exciting, but when we tried them they didn’t deliver on the promise. That can hurt the brand.”
FRUIT AND TECHNOLOGY
While sales of traditional canned fruit has been flat or down in the last year, there are some signs of optimism. Apple sauce/fruit sauce is a bright spot, according to the SymphonyIRI Group’s survey, sales rose 3.3 percent overall last year and nearly 10 percent in private label.
Shelf-stable fruit bowls have been driving the category for several years now, according to Gross, and she sees that trend continuing.
“Next up as a positive for canned fruit will be organic canned peaches and pears,” she says. “This is an exciting time as there is a perception from fresh consumers, that organic canned is just as good or even better than fresh.”
Pull-top cans are becoming much more common on fruit, once again as producers try to make the product as ready-to-serve as possible for consumers. You’ll find more and more vegetables are adopting this as well.
“You don’t see a lot of technical changes in canned goods—it’s a pretty mature category,” Eucke says. “But since 2010 we started using an easy-open lid for canned vegetables, and that’s been successful."
“We found those in the millennial generation don’t necessarily own a can opener,” he says. “For them, less is more. It’s a generational tendency.”
So once again, producers wanting to reach that demographic are focusing on the ready-to-eat quality of canned goods.
Parents have always fought to get their kids to eat more fruits and veggies. Who knew that getting them to open the can would be an issue?