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Keeping Fresh Foods Fresh

BY: Bob Swientek
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Grocery shoppingThe perimeter of the store and its assortment of fresh bakery, meat, dairy, produce and prepared foods is stealing market share from the center aisles, declared Agnes Lapinska with Ingredion at a session on “Increasing Freshness in Fresh Prepared Foods” on Sunday afternoon. “Consumers are demanding less processed, fresher ingredients and more participation in food preparation, which is a huge challenge for the food industry,” said Lapinska. Shoppers are also looking for transparency and ingredients they recognize.

According to Lapinska, sales of perimeter of the store foods in the U.S. were $296 billion in 2014, which represents about a 15% increase over 2009 sales of $257 billion. Sales are forecast to reach $346 billion by 2019—an increase of nearly 17%. Shoppers spend nearly 40% of their time in the supermarket’s perimeter and 18% of their grocery trip in the center of the store. The remainder of their time (about 40%) is navigating the aisles and checking out.

The main factors driving this store behavior, said Lapinska, are consumers’ desire for health and wellness—food at the perimeter is perceived to be less processed, higher quality and healthier, the ability of consumers to personalize and customize their selections, and the economy of eating at home vs. eating out.

To succeed in the growing fresh foods landscape, Lapinska told attendees to focus on the value propositions of freshness, health, clean label, and taste and comfort. If you have a presence in the perimeter, look for points of differentiation such as new ingredients, single-serve packaging and sustainability.

Catherine Proper of Supervalu discussed some of the opportunities and challenges in fresh prepared foods from the retailer’s perspective. About 20% of fresh food is private label, representing a $26 billion market, said Proper. Fresh is the fastest growing category in private label foods.

Proper described a problem with English muffins that were frozen and then merchandised at ambient temperature. The products, which had a 16-day shelf life, were receiving quality complaints, including dryness. A review of the supply chain discovered that the products were frozen, on average, six days following manufacture at individual stores. Housed on pallets, some of the products could take up to three days to freeze in the walk-in freezers. What was thought to be a 16-day shelf life turned out to be less than a week.

Poulson Joseph of Kalsec discussed freshness in the meat case. Research in the U.S. and UK found that more than 70% of consumers want meat and poultry products with no artificial ingredients—the top food category cited. The use of natural antioxidant and clean-label ingredients (e.g., rosemary and rosemary plus acerola for fresh meat, rosemary plus green tea for cooked meat, and cherry powder and celery powder for cured meats) can extend the shelf life of meat products and provide color and flavor stability.

John Garrison of Ingredion talked about the advantages of using functional native starches in delivering stability in refrigerated products. According to Garrison, functional native starches provide a wide peak viscosity, temperature, pH and shear tolerance, a smooth, short texture, and clean label. In a marinade application of poultry, a functional native waxy rice starch produced a succulent and juicy product and offered a clean-label alternative to phosphate. In another application, functional native starch delivered superior freeze-thaw stability in a beef gravy in a ready meal.

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