Each year a few rising stars in the produce department capture the public’s attention and are touted by consumers and industry experts alike. But what are consumers actually buying at the grocery store? Two experts from Grand Rapids, Mich.-based retailer Meijer – produce buyer Scott Calandra and healthy living advisor and Registered Dietitian Melissa Hehmann – share what fresh produce shoppers bought in Meijer stores across the Midwest and predict what to watch for this year with this list of 2013’s top selling produce.
1. Power Greens
Kale is the leafy green veggie that took the nation by storm in 2012 and continued to enjoy strong growth in 2013. Kale’s “Power Green” cousins Brussels sprouts, organic salads and bagged greens topped the retailer’s highest-selling produce list. Bagged baby kale saw the biggest growth in 2013 with a nearly 200% sales jump from 2012, according to Meijer produce buyer Scott Calandra.
Why the big jump? It’s all about nutrition, says Meijer healthy living advisor and Registered Dietitian Melissa Hehmann. “The leafy, nutrient-dense foods in the Power Green category pack a big nutritional punch without a lot of calories – a great combination,” she says. “The popularity of bagged Power Greens is all about convenience – less time spent on washing, trimming and chopping.”
2. Fresh Herbs
As consumers gravitate toward more nutritional options at mealtime, they don’t necessarily want to compromise on taste. At the same time, consumer palates are becoming more sophisticated. Home cooks, who would have previously added salt, are more often using fresh herbs like basil and cilantro to enhance flavor, officials say.
“Salt used to be the go-to way to bring out the taste of foods,” says Hehmann, “but we’re trying to educate consumers to limit their sodium intake to reduce the risks associated with high blood pressure. Herbs are a great alternative, and another excellent source for antioxidants.”
3. Portabella Mushrooms
With trends like “Meatless Monday,” Meijer is seeing more consumers swapping out meats for veggie alternatives, company officials say. “The meaty texture and savory flavor of portabella mushrooms make them a good option for someone looking for a meat substitute,” Calandra says. Families aren’t just replacing meat, but finding ways to make it stretch further, such as mixing chopped mushrooms into ground beef. “Which, coincidentally, is also a great way to sneak more vegetables into your family’s diet,” Hehmann adds.
4. Sweet Potatoes
Consumers have moved on from carbohydrate avoidance to acceptance and are now looking for healthier varieties of carbs, according to Hehmann. “Sweet potatoes offer more vitamins and fiber than traditional white potatoes, and add a vibrant color to dishes. And research has actually shown that the fiber gained from eating steamed or boiled sweet potatoes can help reduce the blood sugar of people with diabetes,” she says.
Sales of the mandarin and sweet orange hybrid at Meijer more than doubled in 2013, officials say. Clementines are an easy-to-peel fruit, which makes them a “healthy low calorie snack for kids and adults alike,” adds Hehmann.
Produce predictions for 2014
Meijer predicts that kale’s popularity will continue to pave the way for other Power Greens like Swiss chard and turnip greens this year. “Consumers are being more adventurous in produce choices, so if they liked kale, they may reach for another unfamiliar green,” Hehmann says. In addition to trying new produce, consumers are rethinking traditional staples like cauliflower. “Cauliflower can be mashed like potatoes, grilled like steak, and used as a gluten-free option for things like pizza crust.”
Meijer also expects to see continued growth in organics and the Meijer Locally Grown program, which supplies Meijer stores around the Midwest with fruits and vegetables from more than 100 local growers in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky. “Organics is one of our fasted growing categories in the Meijer produce department,” Calandra says. “And Meijer shoppers enjoy shopping produce grown near their community and around the Midwest.”