The Vegetable Business

Some interesting take-aways from a talk by Roland Fusami, Senior Analyst for RaboResearch Food and Agribusiness, from Vegetable Grower magazine.

–Convenience is just as important to shoppers as taste and affordability. This explains things such as bagged salads and Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes in ready to microwave bags. “Half of all eating occasions are considered snacks.” (!!) “People want more convenience in products, but we’re supposed to use less packaging because it can cause issues with the environment.”

–Only 19.7% of Millennial food purchases are at traditional retailers (versus 42% by GenX, 54% by Boomers, and 55% by the Silent Generation).

–Online food and beverage sales will grow dramatically, in a short period of time.

–The biggest supply side challenge is the labor shortage. “Even the best immigration policy will still only solve this challenge marginally in the long run.” As the Mexican economy continues to grow and improve, fewer Mexicans will come to the U.S. to pick vegetables. “Long-term, technology is our only viable solution.”

Some things we’re observing in our community:

–Farmer’s market sales and traffic are dropping. The older people who used to come and buy produce by the bushel (for canning, for example) aren’t coming any more. Many of the 20-somethings who used to do their grocery shopping at the farmer’s market aren’t either (perhaps because the trendiness has faded). Instead of buying the ingredients for a weeks’ worth of meals, many folks now just buy one or two items–a tomato or two, for example.

–Despite the push to encourage people use their SNAP benefits (food stamps) at the farmer’s market, sales are minuscule. At our market benefits are doubled. It’s the best deal in town. Yet very few people take advantage of it.

–Convenience does seem to be the number one factor, rather than taste or price. Foods that require effort to process/prepare don’t sell as well as foods that don’t. Offering to deliver the food to the customers’ homes can increase sales.

–Food prices are dropping so low that it’s hard to compete for the price-sensitive shopper. Aldi now sells eggs for less than fifty cents per dozen. Ours are $5/dozen. Aldi has also increased its organic inventory. Lidl will be opening here soon and I’m told that their prices are even lower than Aldi’s.

None of that is particularly discouraging as long as you’re not trying to make a living growing vegetables on a small scale. It’s a great time to be a homesteader. That will hopefully always be true.