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The Year Ahead: Teaching consumers the basics

2024 year ahead

Consumers may know fruits and vegetables are healthy, but many don’t know what to do with them.

Megan McCarthy, chef and founder of Healthy Eating 101 in Atlanta, GA, who hosts cooking classes and offers culinary services, notes that many consumers still don’t know how to wash, store, prep, or cook their produce. “They don’t need to be a chef, but they need basic skills.”

“To get consumers to buy produce, you need to teach them to use it,” agrees Caryn Dugan, founder of STL Veg Girl, LLC and the Center for Plant-Based Living, both in St. Louis, MO. “You need to create a need.”

Pairing chefs and doctors to convey information is an underutilized technique, believes Dugan, who hosts online cooking classes, including The Doc & Chef with Dr. Jim Loomis.

“No one is making that connection,” she says. “As an educator, I would love to talk with growers and grocery store managers about this.”

Another basic part of the consumption equation is flavor: if the eating experience for fruits and vegetables is negative, consumers may forgo these items in the future.

“We’re judged by taste,” says Lori Taylor, founder and CEO of The Produce Moms BB #:366223 in Indianapolis, IN, noting this is why innovation is so critical.

She considers berries an inspiring category, especially raspberries and blueberries. Raspberries are benefiting from better branding and varieties with a longer shelf life, while she says Naturipe’s Mighty Blues “are big, strong blueberries so impressive they drive impulse buys.”

Jim Roberts, president of sales for Naturipe Farms, LLC, BB #:116078 in Salinas, CA, agrees, noting Naturipe built on the success of Mighty Blues in 2023 by formally launching its Mighty Reds.

He calls the two “larger-than-life versions of our classic strawberries and blueberries” but in limited quantities.

On the foodservice side, Nelia Alamo, vice president of marketing at Markon Cooperative, Inc. {{BB #:123315}} notes, “Operators are always looking for new ingredients, blends, and varieties to update menus and keep up with trends.”

Jin Ju Wilder, vice president of marketing and business development for Vesta Foodservice BB #:125924 in Santa Fe Springs, CA, says mushrooms (especially lion’s mane), blueberries, sweet broccoli, and new lettuce and potato varieties as popular with Vesta’s foodservice customers.

McCarthy lauds the continued proliferation of exotics—from microgreens, which she believes will show significant growth ahead, to dragon fruit, which is seeing expanded placement at mainstream retailers like Kroger. “Supermarkets of all kinds are testing new things, because people are asking for it,” she says.

This is an excerpt from the feature story from the January/February 2024 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the whole issue.