A few days ago, as I was looking into my father’s office, I came across The Packer’s Fresh Trends magazine (FTTP) from 1988. It is worth mentioning that The Packer is a publication which, up until now, specializes in fruit and vegetable subjects.
What was in fashion at that time? What were the “Fresh Trends” (consumer trends) back in 1988?
The first article in the publication discusses the need of being able to identify fruits and vegetables with a unique number, a barcode. Even the now commonly used PLU (Price Look Up number) was irregularly used among supermarkets at that time. It was very difficult to have consumption statistics and traceability was even more difficult. Remember when you were a kid that fruits and vegetables were bagged and priced in the same section where they were sold? Now in 2021, 33 years later, the consumer can access the product, variety, origin (country, state, city, and even lot), even the person who packed it, the day and the time.
And, what were the trends?
First, the products with the highest consistency in quality and value were apples, bananas, carrots, grapes, and oranges. The least consistent were peaches, yellow corn, strawberries, melons, and surprisingly, tomatoes.
Some of the products that buyers were starting to consume for the first time were kiwis, asparagus, artichokes and colored peppers (red and yellow). From these, unarguably, peppers are the ones which have grown the most in demand for the last three decades; and farmers from Sinaloa were a key element for it to happen during the winter.
What did the consumer value the most in the fresh produce area? In order of importance: cleanliness and appearance, availability, price and variety. Very far below: seasonal produce, nutritional information, and recipes. As you can see, thanks to commerce, these variables are practically resolved today. In the FTTP from 2020, price is one of the variables consumer values the most; however, there is also a demand for a lesser use of packages and using recyclable materials as sustainability measures.
Regarding food safety issues, the FTTP from 1988 states that, despite the fact that the consumer was concerned about potential chemical residues in vegetables and fruits, these did not affect their purchases. Although in 1987 some supermarkets already offered laboratory analyses, the demand for these products was low. What can I say about these times? You could not possible consider one tomato or pepper with a residue, as it is no longer a luxury or sales strategy. “It’s a given”, meaning, it is taken for granted.
In terms of expectations in technology, the FTTP from 1988 indicates that the third revolution in the production of fresh produce was near. The first was in 1920, when gasoline was changed to diesel. The second in 1950 with the use of pesticides; and the third to come would be biotechnology. They said it would bring “higher production and efficiency and, by 2000, half of the fresh produce companies would disappear.” This prediction came true in a certain way. The performance with new varieties and technologies has grown up to 4 times in the last decades, and self-life of products has tripled.
When it comes to brands, 50% of consumers were “sometimes” asking for a specific one. And if they did, the most popular were: Sunkist, Chiquita, Indian River, Del Monte and Dole. Without a doubt, if this survey were made in recent days, it would definitely mention “Avocados From Mexico” and hopefully soon Sinaloa’s brand of CAADES, “Veggies From Mexico”.
What did we find in advertising and marketing of the magazine in 1988? It seems that “Banana Republics” still had power back then. Ads and ads for “bananas” everywhere. Some promotion for other fruits and little promotion to vegetables (including tomato). Surprisingly, I came across 2 full pages of a company promoting California’s avocado. I wonder, who would eat avocado in 1988 in the US? 32 years later, in the last FTTP from 2020, we find advertising of all kinds of fresh products: grapes, tomatoes, strawberries, bananas, onions, peppers; products from the US, Mexico, Israel and Chile. Has globalization done any good?
What will the trends be in 33 more years, in 2054? With a bit of luck, we will be able to live them: fruits high in vitamins, fruits and vegetables used as a medicine, an increase in vertical agriculture, Artificial Intelligence telling us what and where to plant, Blockchain determining food safety and traceability, robots working in greenhouses and many other wonders, for sure. As farmers from Sinaloa, we are very excited to look forward to the future of the fresh produce industry!