Five Things to Watch from United Fresh 2018

With two areas designated on the show floor to highlight innovative fresh produce products—the new SmartFood Expo plus the FreshMKT Expo—even more companies introduced creative offerings at this year’s United Fresh conference. The five that caught our attention as trends to leverage are:

Lowering the Bar on Sugar

Examples of low sugar packaged foods. Responding to the low-carb, keto and paleo diet trends, many of the products introduced at the SmartFood Expo were low- or no-sugar. While many vegetables are naturally low in sugar, the availability of salad kits, single-serve salad bowls, fresh fruit snack packs and fresh meal bowls are on the rise in the produce department, and a surprisingly small number of these offer low- or no-sugar options. The sugar-free trend is one that value-added produce brands should be keeping their eyes on.

The Power of Plants

Plant-based graphic.The number of people adopting diets primarily comprised of plant-based foods is on the rise. Plant-based proteins such as beans and quinoa are increasingly used as ingredients in salads or dips and portobello “burgers” or cauliflower “turkeys” were just some of the recipes mentioned by food media representatives as protein replacements. And we can’t ignore the ubiquitous veggie noodle and rice movement. Cece’s Veggie Noodle Company CEO Mason Arnold was honored with the United Fresh MKT Achievement this year, and produce aisle veterans Mann Packing and Green Giant Fresh continue to add veggie noodle and rice options to their value-added lines like Mann’s Butternut Squash Spirals and Green Giant Fresh’s new meal bowls which include carrot noodles and sweet potato and cauliflower crumbles.

Minis are BIG

Packaged Cute-cumber.We didn’t walk down a single aisle on the trade show floor without seeing mini or smaller-than-life produce. From Mucci Farms’ “Cute-cumbers” to NatureFresh Farms’ tiny Tomz snacking tomatoes which are about the size of an M&M, mini produce is continuing to take the fresh world by storm. Even the trendy avocado is in the mix with Mission’s Minis—“small but mighty” single serving avocadoes. And not to be right behind, fruits are embracing minis as well with Chelan Fresh’s Rockit snacking apples and Stemilt’s Lil Snappers fruit sized for kids.

Spice it Up

Packaged spicy salad mixes.Spicy food is in! Sriracha has been gaining popularity over the last few years, especially among millennials, and “fiery” is a now a desirable word to describe peppers. Nowhere was that more evident than at the SmartFood Expo where we saw a spicy revolution everywhere from Sky Valley organic sriracha sauce to “Fiery Hot” Peatos (lentil and pea puffs). Of course, spices don’t always mean spicy. We also saw herbs and spices used in new and innovative ways from flavor enhancement with Salad Spice dressing replacement and Tajin fruit spice to beverages incorporating herbs or spices like turmeric for their health benefits.

Live and Let Live

Live packaged herbs.Increasing shelf life is always a primary goal in the fresh produce department, and the best way to do that for a plant is to keep it alive. Living produce is on the rise with Pete’s Living Greens continuing to innovate in this sector and Mucci Farms adding Naked Lettuce to their product line. And companies like North Shore Living Herbs are bringing living herbs into the produce aisle with offerings including basil, thyme, rosemary and sage.

Overall, shoppers are continuing to show interest in their health, without sacrificing flavor, and fresh produce is an integral part of that. The industry is keeping its finger on the proverbial pulse by innovating and bringing fresh and healthy ideas to the forefront. We can’t wait to see what new and inventive ideas we’ll see at United Fresh in 2019!