Ready Pac Foods CMO Tristan Simpson Talks Veggie and Value-Added Trends
- by Jordan Okumura
IRWINDALE, CA - With just a couple weeks under 2017’s belt, the produce industry is already gearing up for a year of fresh produce-driven buying behaviors, and the continued move to the center-of-the-plate.
If you are Ready Pac’s Chief Marketing Officer, Tristan Simpson, then you would remark that the movement is more "center of the bowl," a segment where the company continues to build its brand following. As January gets underway, Tristan joins me as we dip our toe into the water of 2017, to forecast growth in the industry and how the consumer palate is changing.
Q: As we move through this first part of 2017, what trends stand out to you in terms of fresh produce items? Whether that is specific produce items re-emerging, new items, or the roles they play in culinary trends?
Tristan Simpson: From a Macro perspective, what stands out is the continuation of key trends for increased consumption and demand of healthy, better-for-you products and the need for them to be convenient and affordable. We also see the demand for more indulgent experiences and flavors. Access to fresh food is also emerging as a trend as consumers are increasingly looking for healthy options no matter where they are or go. There are many products today that are hitting on all these trends, and those products are winning.
Specifically within fresh, we continue to see variety seeking, ethnic and regional flavors, as well as seasonal offerings. Organics also continue to be a focus for consumers, especially Millennial and Gen Z consumers. The perimeter of the grocery store continues to grow with more fresh prepared options for consumers to incorporate into their daily lives.
Q: What trends do you see coming to the forefront in terms of flavor profiles?
TS: Consumers are seeking bolder flavors within the convenient fresh meal solutions, salads, and fresh-cut produce space. Their demand for flavorful experiences doesn’t stop at the chip aisle. For example, our Bistro Bowl® Puro Picante Blazin’ Hot salad, which includes creamy spicy ranch dressing and crunchy blazing hot cheese curls, has been one of our most popular recent additions.
In the quest for the next Sriracha, we look to culinary innovation and see intense flavors from ethnic origins like North Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. There are trending spice blends popping up in unexpected places like salsas or tacos. Consumers are also interested in authentic regional flavors. Rather than thinking in broad strokes, like Asian, we see examples–as has happened with restaurants and food trucks–of more specific flavors reflective of regional flavor profiles from parts of Japan, Korea, Thailand, and China.
Q: How do you see value-added and fresh-cut items elevating or utilizing trends in 2017?
TS: It is about delivering a consumer experience that delights and fulfills their needs. While trends help guide us on the pulse of the consumer landscape and where it is going, it is not really about executing on a trend. The growth of fresh foods in the perimeter of the store continues, and fresh vegetables, in particular, have been a focus. Over the past five years, there has been a significant increase in fresh food offerings as there is more and more consumer demand.
Additionally, there has been significant growth in fresh prepared foods, driven most recently by the expansion of value-added fruits and vegetables. Coupled with consumers looking for convenience in the foods they purchase, the demand for more fresh prepared foods will continue to grow. In fact, according to Nielsen, the fresh prepared foods market is forecasted to grow at an annual pace of 4.5% through 2019. This points to the fact that consumer expectations around convenient meal solutions will continue to grow and Ready Pac Foods will continue to leverage our expertise in fresh in this space.
Q: Is fresh produce continuing to move toward the center of the plate in 2017?
TS: While we prefer to think about “center of the bowl,” given the success of the original Bistro Bowl® salad line, we do see vegetables, in particular, continuing to take more of the center stage on consumers’ plates as they are perceived to be versatile, nutritious, and flavorful, according to Industry Insights: Food Retail Industry Insights–2016 Duff & Phelps. And while vegans and vegetarians make up only about 6% of the total population, products that appeal to these consumers are becoming more and more popular. As people begin to adopt a “flexitarian” diet–think meatless Monday, or the desire for non-animal-based proteins–they are driven by concerns beyond animal welfare, but also are deep into environmental impact, weight loss, cleaner ingredients, and social responsibility.
According to Baum + Whiteman, a global food and restaurant consultancy, “…we’ve reached a tipping point for vegetables and fresh produce. They’re pushing animal protein to the side of the plate… or entirely off it.” And Mintel has reported that the growing choices of novel, non-animal protein sources, and potential replacements appeal to the everyday consumer.
Ready Pac Foods has been a pioneer in this movement within fresh, offering several options with plant-based proteins, such as our elevĀte™ Organic Baby Greens & Ancient Grains Salad or Organic Southwest Veggie Salad, our Bistro Bowl® Spinach Dijon, and our Lemon Kale Salad Kit.
Q: What consumer buying and eating behaviors are driving and some of these potential trends?
TS: As we talked about earlier, Macro trends drive consumer behavior: healthier options, convenience, indulgence, and affordability. Consumers have also been incorporating more and more fresh foods into their diets, which has created the current surge in the demand for prepared fresh foods. Though the move toward cleaner, fresh food is not a fad or a trend. It is here to stay and Ready Pac Foods is uniquely positioned to deliver consumers the items that they want and need to help them eat healthfully.
Q: How is Ready Pac Foods responding to the evolving consumer in 2017?
TS: Because consumers are continually demanding more fresh food options, our business has grown exponentially. Our mission continues to be to give people the freedom to eat healthier and we strive to provide fresh, healthy, satisfying, and convenient options to fit many different lifestyles.
We work closely with our customers and retail partners to better reach consumers in so-called food deserts–those in remote areas or within densely populated city centers without access to fresh foods–and continue to explore new, innovative ways to get our fresh products into the hands of consumers where they want and expect us to be–and sometimes where they don’t expect us to be!
In 2017, as we have in 2016, we will continue to execute against our multi-year and multi-platform Innovation Pipeline which is driven by consumer and culinary insights.
It looks to be a veggie-centric year as we launch in 2017. With consumer buying behaviors constantly evolving, we will continue to bring you more from the industry leaders in innovation, flavor, and shopping insights, here at AndNowUKnow.