Fred Wilkinson, managing editor
Fred Wilkinson, managing editor

Pass the precut ... or pass on the precut? That is the question.

Ready-to-eat trimmed, processed and/or conveniently packaged meal solutions have long been a growth area in the produce aisle. All-inclusive salad kits, stir-fry kits and numerous other bagged salads or cooking vegetables are aimed at the time-starved consumer with healthier aspirations than a microwave burrito.

Of course part of the value proposition with value-added products such as these is a higher entry fee. In other words, they cost more than bulk or less processed commodities.

According to The Packer’s Fresh Trends 2014 consumer study, daily fresh produce consumption was highest among consumers earning $100,000 annually or more, those with kids and those who live in the Western U.S.

About a fifth of survey respondents (19%) said they prepared a meal daily that includes fresh produce.

It wouldn’t be accurate to characterize eating produce as an elite activity, but consumer groups and government food and nutrition policymakers have identified cost barriers — real or perceived — as a key reason for Americans falling short of the government-endorsed half a plate of produce consumption benchmark.

With that goal in mind, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently upgraded its site (jeez, couldn’t they have come up with a catchier name than that?) with “Healthy Eating on a Budget” tips.

It’s a fairly comprehensive list of practical suggestions, including sample shopping lists and weekly meal planning ideas.

Among its 10 tips for “affordable vegetables and fruits,” tip No. 6 advises “buy vegetables and fruits in their simplest form. Pre-cut, pre-washed, ready-to-eat and processed foods are convenient, but often cost much more than when purchased in their basic forms.”

That’s reasonable advice for consumers on a tight budget, and our friends at the USDA aren’t alone in proscribing precut.

In the second edition of its “Keep More of your Cash” supplement, Consumer Reports magazine lists 77 ideas for saving money. Tip No. 40: Pass on precut produce.

The magazine recommends washing and cutting fruits or vegetables yourself to maximize cost savings and convenience.

Again, it’s reasonable advice, especially for those truly in need of stretching their food dollar — hey, most of us have been there at some point.

Still, few entities — often least of all bureaucrats or consumer advocates — are as adept at accurately surveying the lay of the land of consumers’ psyche as marketers.

Given the continuing rollout of fresh-cut products and convenience packaging and their enduring presence in the produce aisle, it suggests paying a little upcharge for convenience is an equitable trade for millions of shoppers.

Produce needs pitchmen

Produce endorsements are in need of a celebrity makeover.

No, not Oprah or Ellen putting mascara on a melon. I’m talking enlisting a marquee name show biz icon as a pitchman (or woman).

Sure, potatoes had Denise Austin and for a time Dawn Wells, until a traffic stop found the former Mary Ann from “Gilligan’s Island” in possession of some marijuana.

And let’s not forget Barbara Eden from “I Dream of Jeannie” making an appearance at Idaho potatoes’ booth at PMA’s Fresh Summit a few years ago. Sadly, Jeannie’s bad sister with the brunette hair couldn’t make it.

But it’s time for a fresh direction, with a celebrity who boasts enduring popularity and can appeal to a younger (or at least youngish) demographic.

My suggestion: Kevin Bacon.

He looks almost as young now as he did in his “Footloose” days 30 years ago, fit and young at 50-something. He could put a good face on the health benefits of eating fresh produce.

How about the industry pools some promotional dollars and hires Kevin to star in a series of cooking videos using a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables to air across the ‘Net?

Working title? “Kevin Bakin.’”

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