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Snackable veggies and new packaging key trends at CPMA

Celebrity chef Michael Smith a highpoint from the tradeshow's morning conference

Snackable veggies and produce packaging that provides more pop on supermarket shelves were among the trends seen on day one of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association show Thursday.

The two-day show and conference in Montreal attracted growers, distributors and retailers from across North America, with hundreds of exhibitors displaying a cornucopia of fruits and veggies.

Snacking was a key theme among many products. Pure Hothouse Foods of Leamington, Ont., was promoting its new Pure Flavor "Poco Bites" cocktail cucumbers. These mini-cucumbers are only about four inches long and as thick as a thumb, but retain the dark green hue of normal-sized cucumbers.

Ken Paglione, key account manager at Pure Flavor, told Canadian Grocer the cucumbers are ideal for on-the-go snacking or kids' lunches. They also contain fewer seeds than most cucumbers. Pure Flavor is marketing its cucumbers with the tag line "half the size, double the crunch."

The cucumbers come in 680-gram and 283-gram micro-perforated bags. The smaller size, noted Pure Flavor's director of marketing, Sarah Pau, means the product can be displayed at the grocery checkout and inspire impulse purchases.

Another new product aimed at snackers was Mann's Organic Vegetable Tray, a 425-gram, TV-dinner-sized tray containing an assortment of cut celery, broccoli, small carrots and tomatoes, plus ranch dip.

"You could snack on it all day," said Ben Alviano, national manager for Canada at Mann Packing, based in Salinas, Calif. He noted the tray comes with a 16-day shelf life from production which means grocers have a longer selling opportunity.

New types of packaging were seen in several booths. Highline Mushrooms of Leamington, Ont. was showcasing a top-seal mushroom tray.

The top seal setup provides several advantages, said Jane Rhyno, Highline’s director of sales and marketing. First, of course, the packaging is easier to open than traditional mushroom trays in which plastic wrap is twisted around the tray.

In addition, the tray is deeper which means the front panel is flat rather than bulging upward. This allows the trays to be stacked flat in stores, leaving room for more marketing on the panel. In Highliner's case, the plastic liner has a picture of stir fry on it, giving consumers an idea of how to use the product once at home.

Another package type was Mastronardi Produce's "Eco Flavor" system for its Sunset brand. The company said this package uses 20% less plastic than traditional clamshells. It also comes with built-in rinse and drain holes and a see-through tray so shoppers can get a clear view of the tomatoes inside.

Not all the action was on the show floor. The CPMA conference Thursday morning benefited from some star power in the form of celebrity chef Michael Smith.

Smith, the new brand ambassador, for CPMA's "Half Your Plate" healthy eating campaign, told an audience of retailers, growers and distributors that today's foodie culture and reality cooking shows have created a problem.

"We are surrounded by people who know about food, talk about food, but don't know how to cook food," he said.

Smith said that as Half Your Plate ambassador, his goal is to get people back in the kitchen cooking vegetables "regardless of whether they are trendy."

"Perfection in the kitchen isn't necessary," he said, adding later that, "the right way (to cook) is to fill half your cart with produce and who cares if you burn it."

Smith pointed out the importance of teaching about "good, simple food" to children. He told of visiting with a group of Grade 4 kids in P.E.I. only to learn that nearly half of them did not know what broccoli is.

Also on Thursday, the CPMA handed out its Fresh Health Award, recognizing a company that has made an effort to promote the health benefits of eating produce.

This year's award went to Walmart Canada for being one of the first retailers to take up CPMA's "Half Your Plate" marketing program, which encourages consumers to fill half their plate (and therefore half their shopping cart) with fruit and vegetables.

Half Your Plate launched last year and Walmart became one of its earliest backers, promoting the program to consumers in its marketing and on social media, as well as working with suppliers on the initiative.

The fact that this year's convention is being held in Montreal is also historically significant. It was 90 years ago in this city that the CPMA was hatched. In May 1925 a group of Montreal wholesalers met to form the Eastern Canada Fruit and Vegetable Jobbers. Wholesalers in Western Canada joined six years later.

CPMA is celebrating the anniversary throughout this show and conference, which wraps up on Friday.

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