US: Smoothie trend sees frozen fruit sales soar

After decades of sitting in a small corner of the freezer case, frozen fruit has landed its breakthrough role: as a smoothie ingredient.

The appetite for smoothies as a healthy-yet-sweet snack for sipping on the go has thrust frozen fruit into the spotlight, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Frozen fruit sales have topped $1-billion annually, up 67% since 2010, according to Nielsen. This comes as sales of frozen vegetables and meals are flat, and shoppers feel general disdain for frozen food compared with fresh.

In part, frozen fruit got lucky. People are looking for easy ways to eat more fruits and vegetables. Fruit is easier for adults and children to gulp down than kale or broccoli. Frozen fruit also stays firmer and tastes riper than it did in past decades as food freezing technology has advanced.

And interest in making smoothies at home is growing. US blender sales have risen in tandem with frozen fruit sales, hitting more than $1.16-billion in 2014, more than double the $571.9-million sold in 2009, according to market-research firm Euromonitor International.

Dole Packaged Foods, the largest seller of frozen fruit in the US, estimates that in 2014 about 60% of frozen fruit purchased went into smoothies, up from about 21% in 2006.

Smoothies are eaten at home regularly by only about 1% of people, but the number is growing, according to NPD Group, a market-research company. Like juicing—another trendy way to drink fruits and vegetables—the idea of what constitutes a smoothie is moving beyond adding a banana to ice cream in a blender.

Retailer Target has started putting “smoothie additives,” near frozen fruit aisles in some stores—the company’s term for dry smoothie ingredients like hemp seeds, chia seeds and goji berries.

Dole is packaging more fruit blends, often including tropical fruit like mango and pineapple, which are time-consuming to chop when fresh. Sales of berries are booming, while peaches, a classic dessert topping, are growing more slowly.

The company says it recently cracked the frozen code on mandarin oranges. These small sweet oranges are a long-time best seller for Dole eaten in fruit cups or canned, but citrus is tricky to freeze.

The delicate cell walls in oranges or grapefruit “will almost explode on you,” as the fruit freezes, says Jon Rodacy, vice president and general manager of packaged frozen foods for Dole.

Over 10 years of tinkering and three years of tests, company researchers learned that picking mandarins at peak ripeness and freezing slices quickly mean the fruit stays intact when it thaws. “You cannot have a less-than-ripe mandarin otherwise you will end up with a puddle of mandarin on the consumer’s plate,” Rodacy says.

Source: Wall Street Journal