Supermarkets should ride the tide of fresh

November 05, 2013

Americans turn to fruit, obesity stabilizes, and food stores can bank on fresh momentum.

“At my age, I don’t even buy green bananas,” quipped Senator Claude D. Pepper, an advocate for aging Americans in the FDR and Truman era.

He could have for quite a while – he made it to a ripe old age of 88.

The American diet has changed plenty since those days, and consumers are much better informed.  Eating habits that recently led to record obesity levels and incidence of Type 2 diabetes, finally seem to be steadying, according to NPD Group research. The firm’s 28th annual version of its study, Eating Patterns in America, shows that while 30% of U.S. adults are obese (a body mass index of 30 or more), that figure has stabilized since 2011. The number of adults who are overweight (BMI of 25 or more) hasn’t grown since 2003.

Here’s one reason why:  “Fruit is the number one snack and dessert in the U.S. and now makes up 6% of end dishes we consume,” says Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst at NPD and report author. 

Indeed, fruit is the second most-consumed food in the American diet.  NPD data for the year ended February 2013 show the Top 10 foods and beverages:  #1 is sandwich, followed by fruit, vegetables, carbonated soft drinks, milk, coffee, potatoes, salty snacks, fruit juice and cold cereal. 

Clearly, produce and other perishables are keystones of today’s supermarket—and fresh foods are the calling card of Whole Foods Market, Sprouts and similar operators.  While health experts urge people to eat smarter, new packaging, merchandising and convenient presentation of produce (pre-cut, pre-sliced) also make it easier and more appealing to do so, observes The Lempert Report.

What else can conventional supermarkets do to ride the tide of fresh today?  

The Lempert Report suggests that stores host farmers’ markets, promote local agricultural suppliers, and execute an online order-store pickup or delivery strategy. They should address these opportunities with urgency because Walmart, AmazonFresh and Target continue to push new initiatives in fresh.   

Restaurants are another threat in the battle for convenient fresh, adds Balzer, who notes 48% of every meal eaten in America “includes one thing that’s fresh.”    He rhetorically asks in a video: “Can you make a fresh sandwich in your house?  With fresh bread that’s not a day old?  I bet not. It’s 4 or 5 days old.”   By assembling fresh items daily, “restaurants are stealing convenient fresh from the supermarket industry.  Subway started it 20 years ago, but we see Panera Bread, Jimmy John’s, Jersey Mike’s, Firehouse Sub” and others also doing it today, he says.