(Dec. 5) Consumers. If ever there was a willy-nilly bunch, this is it.

And because consumers means everyone, I guess I’m talking about you and me and everyone in between.

The results of the latest Fresh Trends consumer survey have been tabulated, and I would like to share some choice tidbits with you before you actually receive this annual publication in the mail in January.

Fresh Trends 2008— the 25th such survey by The Packer — reinforces that consumers are influenced by the media. Take two opposite examples: After being associated with negative headlines in the past year, lettuce continues its slide; meanwhile, mangoes benefit big-time from a continuing public relations blitz.

E. COLI FALLOUT

Lettuce purchases dropped six percentage points from Fresh Trends 2007, when 67% of consumers said they had bought lettuce within the previous 12 months (our surveys occur in the summer). It may be that uninformed consumers don’t yet realize they can come back to this item after brief food safety concerns.

Still, the rate of spinach purchases remained unchanged, with 37% of consumers saying they purchased spinach within each of the past 12-month periods. That remains a far cry from Fresh Trends 2006, which proclaimed spinach as a growing industry darling with a 49% purchase rate.

Here’s hoping that both lettuce and spinach can put behind their problems and re-ascend the rankings.

MANGO BLITZ

Mango promotions seem to be taking effect. According to Fresh Trends 2008, 21% of customers purchased mangoes within the past 12 months. That was up five percentage points from the previous year.

Anecdotally, I’ve seen retailers stocking bigger displays and using more aggressive pricing. Add that to media outreach from the National Mango Board and it’s easy to see why this item is getting increased consideration in the consumer mindset.

LUNCH AND MARRIAGE

Apparently, being married makes one much more likely to eat more of certain items, such as cauliflower.

These are the facts: 52% of married consumers purchase cauliflower, versus just 30% of single people. The taste for cauliflower remains after cessation of marriage, too, with 39% of the separated/divorced/widowed purchasing the item.

Count sweet corn as one of the kid favorites, or at least as a favorite of parents. Sweet corn made it to the boiling pot in three-quarters of households with kids. Consumers with three or more kids comprised the group most likely to buy the vegetable, at 86%, compared to 59% for consumers without children.

CHERRY CONDITION

Cherries continue their upward ascension, as 48% of consumers purchased cherries within the past 12 months, a boost of seven percentage points from Fresh Trends 2007.

Wealthy consumers are really pulling their weight in cherries. Households making more than $100,000 bought cherries at a 68% clip, compared to 51% for those earning $50,000-99,999. In fact, $50,000 seems to be the magic number, as 43% of those earning $25,000-49,999 bought the fruit, and 40% of households making less than $25,000, did so.

No surprise here, considering cherries’ typical price per pound of $6.99 and up.

A DYING TREND

About 25% of customers purchased radishes this past year, a decline of seven percentage points from Fresh Trends 2007.

The radish was the vegetable with the highest decline from a year ago.

The likelihood of purchase decreased according to the youth factor. Shoppers age 21 to 39 comprised one of the least likely groups to buy radishes, while those older than 59 comprised the group most likely to buy the vegetable.

HARD BEING NO. 2

This year, you almost didn’t want to be a No. 2 BCS college football team. Exactly six times this season, the No. 2 team was knocked off its perch, most recently with my alma mater, Missouri, dispatching longtime rival Kansas.

That seems to be the trend in vegetables with consumers, who made carrots the No. 2 vegetable purchased in 2007.

Onions held the No. 2 spot the previous year, and before that it was tomatoes, which had taken the spot from onions the year before that.

As you might guess, the potato has been a lock for the No. 1 position for many years running. It’s hard to topple a true dynasty.