Determining a good value when it comes to fresh-cut or value-added produce is not always as simple as checking the per-unit price.

For each consumer, it involves assessing the relative importance of convenience, time savings, quality and preference.

Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc.’s family-size packs of AppleSweets sliced apples are gaining in popularity, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director.

The 2-pound bag in particular is attracting shoppers’ dollars.

Pepperl compared the growth of the larger packages to the popularity of 2- and 3-pound bags of mini carrots that families buy to fill their own single-serving bags at home.

Consumers perceive those as better per-unit values within the category of fresh-cut produce.

When compared to the per-unit cost of bulk produce, fresh-cut is often more expensive. That does not mean it’s less of a value, though.

It takes 1.6 pounds of whole apples to produce one pound of apple slices, said Tony Freytag, marketing director, Crunch Pak, Cashmere, Wash.

If bulk apples are selling for $1.49 a pound, the apples in a 1-pound pack of slices are worth about $2.40. Add the cost to process and package them, and they have to be sold at a premium.

“But the key is not so much the retail price point,” Freytag said.

Kids prefer slices

Freytag said many young children will not eat apples unless they are sliced, so parents often buy them sliced or slice them at home. With whole apples, there’s a 75% to 80% throw-away rate, Freytag said, but children readily eat sliced apples.

“That’s the point,” Freytag said. “Give kids something they like … (and) it becomes part of their everyday life.”

Even big kids sometimes prefer sliced apples.
Samantha Cabaluna, director of communications for Earthbound Farm, San Juan Bautista, Calif., said she used to take apples as a snack for high school girls participating in a mentoring program.

When she brought whole apples, the girls didn’t eat them, but when she brought sliced apples, they were quickly devoured.

“It’s nice and small and easy to eat,” she said.

Convenience sells

Convenience does help sell products, but fresh-cut items are a good value only if they are high quality.

They must actually be and taste fresh, and they must have price points that offer value to consumers, Freytag said.

Too often convenience in the marketplace has been associated with low quality, so it’s especially important to provide top quality value-added produce, Cabaluna said.

There is value in the combination of convenience and quality, she said.

“If you drop the quality, the value proposition evaporates,” she said.

Salinas, Calif.-based Mann Packing Co. aims to make it simpler for consumers to eat vegetables regularly, said Elena Hernandez, marketing coordinator. It seeks to provide convenient, time-saving, high quality fresh-cut vegetables.

Its line of fresh-cut vegetables in microwaveable bags, for example, enables consumers to steam healthful vegetables quickly and easily.

With the economic recession, time savers can be even more important for people who are working long hours to provide for their families, said Ed Sullivan, chief marketing officer for Pero Family Farms Food Co. LLC, Delray Beach, Fla.

“With two family members working, the convenience factor is even greater,” Sullivan said. “They need quick food solutions.”

Some shippers offer coupons and other deals to make fresh-cut items an even better deal. For example, Mann plans this year to offer instant coupons on fresh-cut sweet potatoes and butternut squash, Hernandez said.

“Many Americans are struggling financially, so adding value where we can helps their pocketbooks and their health,” she said.

Lower total cost

Another way to look at the value provided by fresh-cut items is by assessing the total cost of buying the same items in bulk and preparing them at home.

Fresh-cut salads can help consumers save money on their overall costs, even though per-unit costs might be higher.

With Pero’s Salad CutUps, which are 6.5-7.5 ounces of fresh-cut salad ingredients, a consumer can save money by buying just the amount that’s needed, Sullivan said.

Although Sullivan said the retail price of a Salad CutUps package is not yet set, he said it would be “dramatically less expensive” to buy it instead of buying each of the ingredients and preparing them at home.

Earthbound Farm’s Organic Mixed Baby Greens salad, which is available for retail in 5-ounce clamshells and 4-ounce bags, can contain as many as 12 types of greens.

“Think about how you would assemble one of these salads,” said Steve Koran, senior director of retail sales and customer service for Earthbound Farm. “You’d have to buy an enormous amount of ingredients.”