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Value-added packages improve sales

March 21, 2002

Value-added is a common term used by vegetable shippers and processors. It simply means that vegetables taken from the field are cut, trimmed, blended or processed in a way that makes them more attractive to consumers.

Most consumers are caught up in an active lifestyle that allows less time for preparing home-cooked meals. This is where value-added products are important. Today a shopper can buy an excellent multi-ingredient salad that is already chopped, washed, cooled and ready to serve. All that is needed is the dressing and sometimes even that is sold in a packet within the master package. Vegetable processors offer a wide selection of salad mixes.

The standard iceberg lettuce-based mix usually consists of iceberg, Romaine, chopped cabbage and shredded carrots. There are European blends that have Romaine, butter lettuce, escarole, endive, radicchio, carrot and cabbage ribbons as ingredients.

The gourmet mesclun mix contains exotic items like red oak leaf lettuce, red romaine, lolla rosa, bronze leaf, arugula, mache, mizuna, tatsoi, frisee and red mustard. The mesclun mix provides a sweet-sour-bitter flavored salad. The taste of the salad depends upon the selection of ingredients and the ratio of each ingredient used in the mix. Also there is the usual offering of coleslaw mix and prepackaged spinach leaves.

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Value-added bulk packages of the same style salad mixes are popular with the restaurant trade as well. There is less fuss and expense for the cooks who simply pop open a 5-pound bag to make a dinner salad or salad entrée.

The value-added trade has revolutionized the carrot industry. Pre-cut carrots are becoming very popular among consumers and for institutional use (i.e. schools, military, hospitals, prisons, large cafeterias). It is common for school kids to pack a bag of short, peeled baby carrots in their lunch boxes. Similar small packages are used for snack food for health conscious adults looking for an option to potato chips and candy bars. Carrots can now be found in more than a dozen forms including coins, chips, shreds, match sticks, baby bites, baby cuts, diced, sliced, julienne and crinkle cuts. Some carrot packs are offered with dips.

Other vegetables have similar trends toward value-added offerings. Broccoli can be purchased as bunched (normally two to three heads) or as value-added packages of florets or crown-cut pieces. Cauliflower can be purchased in value-added packages containing 1 1/2-inch pieces or 2-3 inch pieces. And many vegetables are combined to make dipping trays of cauliflower, broccoli florets, celery and carrot sticks. Broccoli is often packaged with cauliflower, bean sprouts, bok choy and snow peas for an oriental stir-fry mix.

The change to value-added products has been good for consumers and the vegetable industry alike. The consumer gets the convenience of saving time as well as providing the family with a nutritious appetizing salad or vegetable mix. The wasted byproducts such as peel or juice from carrots often can be used for manufacturing another line of products or for animal feed so less waste goes down the garbage disposal or to the landfill.

New and better varieties have sometimes emerged from the need for products that conform to value-added products. This has certainly been the case in carrots, where the new breed of carrot is sweeter, has virtually no core and has a bright orange color. They simply taste better than the carrots traditionally grown for the commercial trade a decade or two ago.

The development of newer and better value-added vegetable products is inevitable. Maybe someday there will be the return of good flavored tomatoes that are available on a year round basis. They sure help to improve the flavor of a chef's salad.

>> Keith Mayberry is the vegetable crops adviser at the University of California-Imperial County Cooperative Extension.

>> The Cooperative Extension serves all residents of the Imperial Valley.

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