BERLIN — You don’t have to look too hard to find some differences between the U.S. and Germany when it comes to merchandising fresh produce.

Demographics favor fresh convenience foods

Fred Wilkinson
Managing Editor

A first-time visitor to Berlin (and to Europe, for that matter) to attend the Fruit Logistica expo Feb. 9-11, I noticed during my bus ride from Tegel Airport compact storefronts of Russian-owned supermarkets lined with bins of various fresh fruits and vegetables, including cabbages as big as a basketball.

Descending into the subway station to complete the journey to my hotel, I was surprised to see a greengrocer selling not only whole fruits and vegetables but prepared salads and vegetable-laden sandwiches too.

Like the U.S., Germany is a growing market for fresh convenience foods.

Friedhelm Balmes, sales and marketing director of Gartenfrisch Jung Gmbh, one of Germany’s leading fresh-cut salad manufacturers, provided some details and outlook about the trend during a Feb. 9 Freshconex workshop on consumer expectations about fresh convenience foods.

A series of Freshconex business forums — conducted with Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association — took place during Fruit Logistica.

For Americans and Germans alike, the days of the home-cooked meal are becoming more of a rarity.

Packaged prepared fresh foods consumed away from home boast the fastest-growing demand in Germany, Balmes said, second only to foodservice.

A quarter of Germans purchase and consume such meals daily, including in the workplace, he said.

The segment saw consumer spending of 65 billion euros (more than $88 billion) in 2009 alone, he said, adding that if there were adequate products in the marketplace to meet demand fresh convenience foods could be a 102 billion euro (nearly $139 billion) market.

Like food consumers in the U.S., Germans sometimes have contradictory expectations regarding price and quality, Balmes said.

Balmes said German consumers’ threshold for high-quality fresh convenience foods is 5 euros — a little under $7.

U.S. shoppers are even cheaper — it has to be under $4, Roger Schroeder, vice president of produce for San Bernadino, Calif.-based Stater Bros. Markets, told The Packer in late 2009.

They want high quality but aren’t willing to pay higher prices.

German retailers — think Aldi — have long embraced a deep discounter sales model.

A similar discount-shopper mentality has grown more prevalent in the U.S. since the economy went wobbly a couple of years ago.

Graying markets

Germany and the U.S. share other marketplace trends.

For one, neither is getting any younger.

Forty percent of Germans are age 50 or older, Balmes said.

The U.S. Census reports about a quarter of Americans are age 55 or older.

Although the U.S. doesn’t trend quite as old as Germany, the demographically influential baby boom generation is entering retirement.

These aging consumers want — expect — a high quality of life as they grow older and look at healthful foods as a key part of their active lifestyles.

Steve Grinstead, president and chief executive officer of Monterey, Calif.-based Pro*Act, mentioned the mass catering market potential of this demographic trend at a companion Freshconex workshop.

Grinstead suggested senior living communities for retiring baby boomers were generally more educated and wealthy.

Other demographic trends in which the two nations mirror each other are the growing number of singles and working women.

Whether old, young, retired or working, tailoring healthful convenience foods to fit the needs and expectations of these life stage groups will be a growing focus and opportunity — whether in North America or Europe.

E-mail fwilkinson@thepacker.com

Did you attend Fruit Logistica 2011? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.