The growing popularity of value-added and fresh-cut produce is not lost on Veritable Vegetable, San Francisco. It is just that the 35-year-old distributor of certified organic fruits and vegetables is not a big fan of the category.
"We really want people to start cooking again, doing their own preparation," said Bu Nygrens, purchasing manager and co-owner of Veritable Vegetable. "This convenience trend, although it can help promote fresh produce . . . we really prefer that shoppers buy in bulk and prepare their own meals."
The company's philosophy does not mean Veritable Vegetable will not sell value-added and fresh-cut food items - and it embraces some of the advantages the category offers, Nygrens said.
"The convenience of clamshells is outstripping bags, and that helps spur impulse buying of fresh produce," she said.
The greater availability of value-added items of organic produce - carrot chips and shreds, baby peeled carrots, apple chips, mixed shreds - is another plus, Nygrens said.
"If it means kids are going to eat carrots instead of potato chips, great," she said.
Retailers have more confidence in the clear plastic containers, Nygrens said, because the products hold up better, the clamshells are easier to display and there is little or no compression in shipping.
A new clamshell-packed product selling well this winter for Veritable Vegetable is heirloom leaf lettuce varieties, Nygrens said. Winter supplies of the lettuces were grown in the California and Arizona desert regions, but the harvest moved to the Bakersfield area in March and will transition to the Salinas Valley by summer, she said. The heirloom lettuces reflect a trend the company is seeing toward older varieties, Nygrens said.
Also new this year for Veritable Vegetable is wild arugula, which is a bit spicier than regular arugula, Nygrens said. Another niche product gaining popularity, she said, is beet greens.
Though it may run counter to the company's goals, Nygrens admires the merchandising value of clamshells.
"Products don't really take off until they are packed in clams," she said.
Founded in 1974, Veritable Vegetable grew out of an alternative food project. The all women-owned company is the oldest distributor of certified organic produce, Nygrens said. While the company does sell conventionally grown produce, 99% of its volume is organic, she said.
Veritable Vegetable's business philosophy is to interconnect social and economic systems that bring people back together, Nygrens said, which explains the company's very specific customer base.
There are few chains, she said, but lots of independents who have a predilection toward bulk and natural foods. The sagging economy will force shoppers back to bulk food buys, Nygrens said, a transition she said she sees for the long term.
"We're trying to educate people away from heavier packaging and toward bulk buying," she said.
Most of the company's customers are in California and Hawaii, but it does sell to a handful of stores in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. Veritable Vegetable is strictly a distributor and does not have its own label, Nygrens said.
Veritable Vegetable reinforced its environmentally holistic reputation in January when a solar array was installed atop the company's 25,000-square-foot San Francisco warehouse. The electricity provided by the sun will trim the company's annual power bill by an estimated $60,000, Nygrens said, and will pay for itself within five years.