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Ethnic trends boost canned veggies


The canned vegetable business has become more dynamic and discriminating recently. The desire for fresh produce and its association with wellness may be driving some consumers away from the canned vegetable category, but a proliferation of ethnic and vegetarian cuisine may bolster the category in the immediate future.

By providing a range of products that meet specific needs, vendors and retailers may be helping canned vegetables hold their own in the marketplace in dollar terms.

At a Pennsylvania Wal-Mart supercenter last month, mustard, collard and mixed greens from brands such as Glory, Sylvia, Margaret Holmes and Great Value were prominent in the canned vegetables assortment. Wal-Mart offered two pricing tiers with Glory and Sylvia products, about a third more expensive than Margaret Holmes and Great Value.

Certain canned vegetable products draw more African-American, Hispanic and other ethnicities to stores, but they may also draw mainstream consumers who are at least are dabbling in non-traditional food cultures they encounter in restaurants, on television and through local associations.

Ethnic consumers who are moving toward the mainstream in the first and second generation look for the convenience U.S. food production provides, while cuisine dabblers don’t always trust their ability to recreate emblematic dishes from scratch.

Even if many health-conscious consumers have turned from canned to fresh vegetables, the category won’t necessarily wilt, as long as retailers and their suppliers respond effectively to trends and consumers—even vegetarian and natural food consumers—who continue to crave convenience.

Unit sales in canned foods have generally fallen over recent years, with the category off by 3.7% in the 52 weeks ended June 14, according to The Nielsen Co. Dollar sales, however, have been on an upswing. Off slightly in the period four years earlier, canned vegetable dollar sales gained 1.2% in the next 52 weeks, then 1.6% in the period after that.

In the 52 weeks ended June 14 of this year, sales were up by 1.5% to $3.3 billion. The gains may well reflect the growth of both ethnic and vegetarian cuisines.

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