Latest Trends in the Produce World

This past weekend I was in New Orleans for the Produce for Better Health Conference. There were about 30 retail dietitians attending from all over the US and Canada. A retail RD is a dietitian who works in either a grocery store, like me, or who works at the corporate level for a grocery store. As you can imagine, this was a very niche group. The goal of the conference was to identify ways to help people eat more fruits and veggies, a goal most people in the US can probably support.

rose mattson - lettuce

Flying into New Orleans was super cool. It looked like a forest, but then if you looked closer it was actually all water underneath. Coming from Utah and the west coast in general, this was pretty cool. Also, it was humid. Literally starting sweating the minute I arrived and probably didn’t stop till I got back to Utah.

We spent several days listening to presentations regarding trends in produce and what other retail dietitians do in their roles. We also spent time out on the expo floor which was literally a mile long. All of the vendors were trying to get us to put their produce into the store and while we don’t have actual buying power, retail dietitians do speak with customers and may influence their purchases depending on the product. So our job was to get informed by these sponsors so that we may promote their product, if we so desired. We ate tons of samples, walked 6 thousand miles, and got lots of fun promotional products.

rose mattson - peppers
Little baby stuffed quinoa peppers

Let’s learn about the latest trends in produce!  

Recent trends tell us that people are looking for low-sugar, low-sodium, low trans-fat foods, with a particular emphasis on lifestyle and environmental certifications. So things like: allergen-free, vegan, Paleo, fair-trade, gluten-free, non-GMO, Organic etc. For example, if a product was labeled gluten-free, non-GMO, and Organic, the growth rate skyrocketed, along with sales. This is interesting to me for several reasons.

  1. I like the emphasis that consumers are making on choosing products that favor the environment and sustainability.
  2. Just because a food item is labeled “___-free” or lists ingredients it doesn’t contain, does NOT mean it is more healthful. I think this is often something that gets overlooked by lots of consumers.

In other news…

Cauliflower had the highest growth rate in 2017 at 47% with high sales volume. If you haven’t seen cauliflower making its way into smoothies, faux rice, or as a sub for pasta, I would be surprised. As a self-proclaimed lover of all things carbs, I don’t necessary love the substitution of said-carbs for cauliflower in dishes. I think it can serve as a nice addition so that we can get more veggies, but we need also carbs, and subbing a veg for a carb will not taste the same or satisfy a need for energy the way actual carbs will. Eat carbs! And veggies!

rose mattson - caprese
Caprese skewer

Dandelion greens have also seen an extremely high growth rate this year. You may have seen dandelion greens in salads, as a topping in some main dishes, or in your front yard. I have had dandelion greens several times and they are pretty bitter. But to each their own!

Jackfruit has also seen a large increase in both growth and overall sales. It looks like a large greenish-brownish spiny watermelon and it extremely hard to cut open. Jackfruit is being marketed as a meat replacement for whoever wants to eat less meat. However, one cup of jackfruit only contains about 3 grams of protein. In contrast, 1 cup of tofu contains about 10 grams, and 1 cup of tempeh is about 30 grams of protein. My thought is, yes, eat more plants because they are extremely good for you. But if you are looking for a protein source, jackfruit probably isn’t it!

We also talked about a trend focused towards a plant-centric or veg-forward lifestyle. People are focusing on eating more plants, whether that be for the environment, for personal reasons, or to better their health. I think this is great because there are tons of studies that have shown how beneficial plants are for our overall health.

rose mattson - strawberries

We had a chef present to us regarding what people want in terms of cuisine. He noted that people are looking for food that is globally authentic, meaning actual Mexican food, or Korean, Malaysian etc. Personally, I have noticed this trend and am super stoked about it because who doesn’t love to try new types of food?!

One good thing to note here is that one food or a single food group is not a cure-all. Eating kale all the time, drinking collagen, or only eating jackfruit will not make you the healthiest. It is all about balance and that includes eating all types of different foods!

rose mattson - avocado
Balancing some avocado with chips

On day 2, after sweating my way over to the convention center, we listened to the CEO of the Produce Marketing Association speak about the newest trends in the industry. It was again noted the large shift in plant-centric types of eating with 57% of people eating meat-less at least once a week. Here were some of the things she identified as top trends in 2017:

  • Health prescriptions for fruits and veggies – physicians can now prescribe exercise for patients, what if they also sent people to dietitians for a fruit and veggie prescription?
  • Smart kitchen appliances – the ability for your fridge to bring you snacks. Yikes! Reminds me of Wall-E.
  • In-store greenhouses or vertical farming – to provide fruits and veggies to customers right from the store. Cool!
  • Vinome – a wine service that sends you wine based on your DNA (not real science, but kind of fun)
  • Coop Italia – a futuristic grocery store that allows customers to put their hands over products, and be given information via a screen above the food. SO cool!
  • Robotic bees – Harvard has developed robotic bees in order to help pollinate crops
  • Jackfruit and algae – Increase in jackfruit consumption and predicted algae will be the next big thing
  • Robotic food delivery – a robot that will bring your delivery to your door
  • Body hacking – a digital device inserted into your body in order to track health information

What do you think the next big trend will be?

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