Vicky Boyd, staff writer
Vicky Boyd, staff writer

When Interstate Bakeries Corp., owner of Hostess Brands, went bankrupt and closed its doors in November, business analysts blamed a number of factors, including lack of new products.

After all, the baker of Twinkies hadn’t really come out with a new product since it introduced the snack cakes Ho Hos and Ding Dongs in 1967.

In this digital age, where electronics are obsolete before they’re even released, consumers are fickle and continually want new products or innovations.

And the produce industry is no exception.

Grocers’ canned fruit and vegetable aisles, for example, are shrinking quickly as younger consumers opt for fresh or minimally processed items.

I consider myself a typical consumer in that I can barely stomach the taste of most canned products. But I still like the convenience of just opening a can and heating the contents.

Thanks to recent innovations, I can have both fresh taste and convenience.

Several companies have introduced microwavable steamer pouches with the likes of brussels sprouts, cubed squash and even asparagus.

A host of potato grower-packers also have introduced similar steamer pouches for smaller spuds and specialty varieties. They were evident in full force at the Produce Marketing Association’s 2012 Fresh Summit in Anaheim, Calif., recently.

Even if a produce item is eaten raw, such as apples and oranges, you’re seeing consumers gravitating toward new products.

Red and golden delicious, once mainstays of the produce department, have fallen out of favor, having been overtaken by newer varieties that often have better flavor or texture.

Fujis aren’t the headliner they once were. Pink Lady apples seem to be holding their own, but Honeycrisps seem to be the variety du jour right now. Who knows what apple variety will be tomorrow’s rising star?

Pero Family Farms Food Co. LLC, Delray Beach, Fla., and a small number of other grower-packers have put a new twist on bell peppers.

Pero introduced what it calls mini-sweet peppers — smallish colored peppers in clamshells or grab-and-go pouches — a few years ago.

The peppers are shaped like small Fresno chiles or jalapeños. But they’re sweet, with a flavor similar to bell peppers, and come in yellow, orange and red.

Each pepper is one or two bites, and they’re fun to eat.

But one of the best examples of innovation is mandarins and clementines, the easy-to-peel citrus that’s booming to the detriment of navel oranges.

The tangerine-like fruit, marketed under fun names like Cuties and Ribbitz, combines seedlessness, convenience and taste. Larger volumes even come in cute cardboard mini-crates, adding to the consumer appeal.

The real test for mandarins and some of the other new items will be 5 years down the road. Will fickle consumers tire of them and jump to the latest and greatest, or will they remain loyal?

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