Some assembly required

Produce meal kits are helping home chefs whip up great dishes in record time

In this era of digital everything, food is one of the few aspects of life that’s resolutely, refreshingly analogue. There’s no online substitute for squeezing, tapping and smelling fresh fruit.

But our digital world is a hurried one, and produce companies realize today’s time-poor consumers need extra help.

Enter produce meal kits. They let home chefs prep with the flair of Bobby Flay but in less time than it takes Usain Bolt to run 100 metres (well, almost).

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In recent months, manufacturers have unveiled kits featuring everything from pumpkins to Thai soups to tomatoes.

The latter came courtesy of Leamington, Ont.’s Nature Fresh Farms, which introduced the Fried Green Tomato Kit. It includes two green tomatoes and an “authentic southern batter mix.” To prepare, simply add water and fry.

“Retailers are looking for differentiation and how best to satisfy their customers, and convenience is always a factor,” says Davis Yung, president of Vancouver’s Fresh Direct Produce.

Earlier this year the company introduced the Tom Yum Soup Set. It comes with all the ingredients to make spicy Thai soup, including lemongrass and fish sauce.

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Fresh Direct Produce is also developing a curry paste to which people can add their own vegetables, such as eggplant or okra.

“The idea is to give them something with all the ingredients but still have a ready-to-eat that is tasty and not the same every day,” he says.

One problem with produce kits is shoppers can perceive them as artificial. A solution is to surround them

with bright fruit and veggies, says Adam Orser, owner of the Root Cellar, an independent grocer in Victoria.

“When you present something on its own it looks pre-packaged. But if you’re merchandising those items with in its natural glory, it works. People shop with their eyes before anything else.”

Tilt-back displays can also draw attention, says Linda Cavasin, senior director of produce merchandising at Metro.

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And don’t forget to surround meal kits with complementary items, she says.

An example: Washington-based AMF Farms introduced a line of pumpkin-pie baking kits under the brand name Pumpkin Patch Pals. It suggests cross-merchandise with whipped cream.

The only thing missing is the cherry on top. But, hey, that’s just an aisle over, right?

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