Indianapolis produce distributors and wholesalers note increasing growth in fresh-cut and value-added offerings.

Dan Corsaro, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Indianapolis Fruit, Indianopolis, explained that convenience is the primary concern for modern consumers.

”A lot of people are moving away from bulk produce, and increasing in prepared and pre-packed produce,” Corsaro said. “It’s all about convenience at the retail level. Consumers want something convenient, where they can just grab and go.”

To take advantage of this growing trend, companies are expanding their fresh-cut offerings. For example, Indianapolis Fruit continually invests in new lines of parfaits, stew mixes, vegetable dipping cups, and other products targeted towards consumers who want fast, easy preparation. According to Corsaro, the trick is to educate consumers on innovative ways to incorporate more produce into their diets.

“A lot of shoppers want to buy new products, but they often don’t know how to use it,” Corsaro said. “A lot of the products are the same, but if you put it in a package and tell them how to use it — like including a recipe — they’re more likely to buy it. The more you can educate the consumer on a specific product and how to use it, the more likely he will spend money on it.”

In doing so, companies have also increased efforts in cross-merchandising at the retail level, connecting consumers to other items in stores through value-added produce packages. Caito Foods, which recently expanded its fresh-cut production, has several lines of ready-to-make meals, including chili mixes, kebab mixes and other meal starter kits. For Caito, fresh-cut provides also benefits to grocers by removing the costs typically associated with food safety standards and additional labor.

“The idea is that, by prepackaging the product and then providing it directly to a store for shelf placement and eventual sales, the store saves both the time and money of having to prepare those things themselves,” said Matthew Caito, executive vice president of Caito Foods Service Inc., Indianopolis. “It then also saves customers time, but credits the store for the innovation.”

Consumers’ demand for convenience may also explain the rise of produce in foodservice.

“With husbands and wives working within families, whoever is bringing dinner home now looks for carry-out. Or, they’re just going out to eat,” said Rick Harsnett, vice president of sales in the Indianapolis office for Tom Lange Co., Springfield, Ill. “It’s not like when one person cooked the meals — today’s families don’t cook like they used to because most people in the family are working. That’s keeping foodservice volume on the rise.”

Fresh-cut and prepackaged items should continue to see strong sales going into the end of the year as well. Sales of healthy items, like prepared salad bags and produce items ideal for juicing, regularly rise at year’s end.

“You see a lot of people buying for their New Year’s resolution diets,” Corsaro said. “It might seem silly, but being in the food business, you’ve got to focus on trends like that.”