For those who love fun facts, here’s one: a survey by the Canadian Produce Marketing Association found three of four Canadians are eating types of vegetables they didn’t consume five years ago.
Think about that. For decades, peas, carrots and corn ruled the dinner table, with moms extolling kids to clear their plates.
Now, kale, bok choy, ramps, kohlrabi, cauliflower and other long-ignored veggies are becoming stars.
Kale’s rise, especially, is nothing short of Greek yogurt heroics. The American grocery chain Meijer recently provided a gobsmacking number to the trend.
Sales of bagged baby kale at Meijer’s 204 stores in the Midwest tripled in 2013 over the previous year.
Kale’s surge is part health, part hype. Certainly, kale lives up to its reputation as one of the healthiest vegetables. One cup of chopped kale contains 206% of the daily value of vitamin A, 134% of vitamin C and 684% of vitamin K, according to WebMD.
But kale has also benefited from celebrity endorsements, including actor Gwyneth Paltrow, who adds kale to her breakfast smoothie.
Indeed, Kale’s versatility is a big reason for its appeal. It can be a salad, a hot-meal ingredient or a juice.
Grocery retailers are bulking up. At Choices Markets in Delta, B.C., both green and black kale were among the Top 10 produce sellers last year, says produce operations manager, David Wilson. “Five years ago you couldn’t give it away.”
The chain runs short, two-minute cooking shows in-store to demonstrate recipes such as a kale caesar salad and salmon sliders on kale.
In February it ran a green smoothie challenge, giving out ideas on how to include kale in smoothies. After a demo, produce sales typically rise that day by up to 20%, Wilson says.
Kale has become so popular at Loblaw that it’s now a private label item.
“It’s very big to move something into private label because it becomes prominent,” says Frank Pagliaro, VP of produce procurement.
Merchandising kale, which has to be kept chilled, can be challenging, he says. So, Loblaw expands the number of facings dedicated to kale within its refrigerated space, and increases linear feet devoted to it when it can.
Kale comes with cross-merchandising opportunities too, says Melanie McIntosh, a merchandising consultant with Inspire Retail Solutions in Vancouver. She suggests putting a sign next to the meat fridge, saying: “Great with kale, $2.99 a pound in the produce department.”
Rob Johnson, produce operations manager at seven Country Grocer stores on Vancouver Island, says packages of spinach and baby kale, which can be cooked together, are effective.
A big surprise at Country Grocer: entire cases of kale bought by consumers making their own kale chips.
But how long can kale rule?
Popular vegetables tend to lose cachet after 12 months, says Maeve Webster of Datassentials, a food industry market research company. But rather than fade away, kale might spin off interest in other veggies.
Indeed these four seem poised for growth:
Cauliflower: There’s little doubt the next star of dinner is cauliflower. “Cauliflower is the next ‘it’ thing,” says Kathy Means, VP with the Produce Marketing Association. The problem, she says, is consumers don’t know how to use it creatively, so some education is needed.
Mushrooms: It’s not just white ’shrooms taking off. Datassentials points to an increase in the last four years on Canadian menus of portobello (43% CAGR), and black mushrooms (25%), while in the U.S., trumpeter mushrooms are all the rage (up 68%). “We have at least six types of mushrooms and [offer seasonal mushrooms including] blue oysters, porcini and hen of the woods,” says Choices Markets’ Wilson. “Hardcore foodies are looking for those and I see that trending up.”
Cruciferous veggies: Loblaw’s Pagliaro expects to sell more Swiss chard and collard greens. Brussels sprouts are also on his radar. “There’s the convenience factor and they are being included in salads and in microwaveable packages.”
Sweet potatoes: As consumers look for nutrition everywhere, sweet potatoes are hitting their stride. “People want to replace their grains with starches but don’t want the ‘evil’ white potato,” says Nicole Fetterly, nutritionist at Choices Markets.
Should kale’s surge stop, other veggies are ready to take its place on the plate.