Melanie Bartelme
Melanie Zanoza Bartelme is a Global Food Analyst at Mintel, providing insights on global innovation and consumer trends across a number of food categories.

At the 2019 United Fresh Expo held in Chicago this month, attendees got a first-hand look at the innovative products, technology and packaging emerging within the produce industry.

Global Food Analyst Melanie Zanoza Bartelme spotted five key trends to watch in fruits and vegetables that she expects we’ll see in produce aisles in the coming weeks and months.

Vegetables get tiny

According to Mintel research on vegetables, US consumers say they are looking for more ways to get fruits and vegetables into their diets, but only a third say fresh vegetables feel snackable. Growers have focused on offering small, bite-size vegetables that consumers can eat on-the-go. However, some vegetables are produced much smaller.

Tomz Tomberry Tomatoes, which are the size of a blueberry, are said to be the world’s smallest tomato, though Sunset’s Sprinkles Tiny Mighty Tomatoes may be challenging that assertion. These tomatoes feel poppable as well as useful for sprinkling atop hummus, pizza, soup and salad. The trend toward small is not only limited to tomatoes: Mucci Farms launched its CuteCumber Poppers, tiny cucumbers that the company says are perfect for dipping. These new offerings give classic vegetables a sense of excitement and make them feel fun and snackables- something that may appeal to kids as well as health-seeking adults.

Exotic fruits expand

According to Mintel research on fruit, nearly a quarter of US fruit consumers express interest in more exotic varieties and it appears that produce suppliers have been working to provide them with more options in store. Brands like Melissa’s showcased a range of exotic varieties, from spiky rambutan to tangy passionfruit to the bright pink dragonfruit currently starring in Starbucks’ Mango Dragonfruit Refresher. The pièce de résistance? Fresh, pre-cut jackfruit. While many brands have turned to frozen pulled jackfruit as a meat alternative and others have offered it frozen, fresh jackfruit has been quite rare. It will be interesting to see how consumers respond to this new option and see if it primes them to demand greater variety within the produce department.

Plant-based ready meals evolve

Recently, brands have begun to recognize that consumers are looking to get extra servings of vegetables in as many places as they can, including ready meals. According to Mintel research on prepared meals, nearly one-third of US ready meal consumers say they are looking for options with a full serving of vegetables. As a result, we’ve seen plant-forward meals from Lean Cuisine, Green Giant, and Bonduelle, among others. Some of these products have paired chopped-veggie bases made from kale and cauliflower with on-trend toppings and sauces.

Brands are continuing to evolve what these meals can do and some of the category innovation was highlighted at the show. Mann’s added a breakfast option to its Nourish Bowls line, giving consumers a convenient veggie base for creating omelettes that can be microwaved right in their container. Green Giant Fresh added crunchy toppings like tortilla strips and crispy rice noodles for texture. Bonduelle took a different approach with its Heat & Eat Harvest Bowls with meals that contain several different kinds of veggies along with fully cooked rice or noodles, which users heat up all together. The resulting meal offers increased vegetable content while retaining the elements consumers are used to in their meals and preserves the texture they would expect from a traditional ready meal.

Lettuces go local

Consumers are interested in eating local foods, with more than half of US vegetable consumers reporting that they buy locally grown vegetables whenever possible. Some lettuce companies are finding ways to answer this desire for local at scale. For example, Gotham Greens grows its lettuces and herbs in New York City and Chicago in urban farms, selling local produce only within the region it comes from. Other companies, including Minnesota’s Living Greens Farm and New York’s Bowery, have turned to aquaponics to be able to grow lettuce across different regions and sell that produce “locally.” These brands take advantage of their indoor growing spaces to eschew pesticides, and highlighting this attribute prominently on pack.

Bowery also points to hydroponics as inherently traceable since they control the process “from seed to store.” As demand for more vegetables continues to grow, expect more urban farms and other non-traditional growing methods to spread across places that we might not normally associate with farming.

Dressings and dips draw on plants

Plants are everywhere these days, from cauliflower in pizza crusts to oats in milk to peas in burgers. And condiments and dips are no exception. It’s fitting that several condiment companies promoted their plant-based products alongside the produce that goes into them (and what goes with them). Good Foods’ plant-based dips, such as tzatziki and queso, feature pureed cauliflower and other plant ingredients like almonds. Mother Raw’s dressings and and sesame bases, and its ketchups are sweetened with dates. While vegan cheeses and condiments are not new, this new crop of sauces are drawing on more natural, recognizable fruit and vegetable ingredients like potatoes, carrots, and tomatoes. These products may appeal to the third of consumers looking to avoid artificial ingredients but who are otherwise not necessarily looking to adhere to a vegan or vegetarian diet.