As fresh-cut processors continually push to add value to their product rosters, convenience remains the thread that holds them all together.

“Easy” and “quick” remain the buzzwords of the category.

“Convenience still tends to be a push,” said Ed Odron, president of Odron Produce Marketing & Consulting, Stockton, Calif. “Green beans in a bag, many cut and ready veggies such as butternut squash, packaged corn, microwavable items.”

Nothing along those lines is new, but technology continues to improve and diversify packaging, he said.

At Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets Inc., salads remain a staple of the fresh-cut shopper, company spokesman Maria Brous said.

“Prebagged, prewashed salads are always a good seller with our customers,” she said. “Here again, customers enjoy the convenience of opening a bag of mixed or field greens, eating healthy, and all in less time.”

What qualifies as innovative often has different connotations, said Bill Munger, fresh-cut sales director for Oviedo, Fla.-based Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc.

“It depends on who you talk to,” he said. “Some retailers are suggesting less printing on the packaging and more visibility on the product. As far as usability, where everybody’s got Ziplocs and things that make it more friendly for storage once you get it home. Those aren’t really innovative.”

The newest trend in fresh-cut and value-added items isn’t products themselves, said Jim Richter, Overland Park, Kan.-based executive vice president of sales and marketing for Rexburg, Idaho-based Wilcox Fresh.

“In my opinion, the real trend will continue to be snacking,” he said. “When you look at a typical week for a consumer, there are 35 eating and drinking occasions. There’s breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus a morning snack and an evening snack, so snacking, particularly in the fruit category like apples and grapes, will continue to grow in popularity, particularly if those items are able to make a successful transition into the convenience stores.”

Smart distributors are meeting the needs of that trend, Richter said.

“Those customers are particularly given to heavy snacking, so instead of picking up their bag of chips, they pick up a bag of apples or grapes or carrot sticks to eat while they’re driving around, because most of that type of food is consumed within three to five minutes of leaving the store when you’re behind the wheel of your car,” he said.