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European Convenience Forum Hamburg: Successful first edition

The fresh-cut sector is flourishing in Germany and Western Europe

The sector is flourishing in Germany and elsewhere in Western Europe: this statement started off the first edition of the European Convenience Forum in Hamburg on 7 June. The well-attended lectures and the associated networking at the Mövenpick Hotel Hamburg, where many marketers and other important players from Germany and abroad were present, showed that the sector is rapidly gaining importance both in Germany and in other Western European countries.

The stand of Food Freshly GmbH with Mr Benjamin Singh

Although fresh-cut is still preeminently seen in various German regions as the traditional cut lettuce, other products are gradually entering the market. Among other things, fruit salads and smoothies are increasingly becoming established in German retailing. Also the so-called systems gastronomy -an absolute growth market in Germany- is increasingly presented with fresh-cut products to complete their existing range of predominantly sliced lettuce varieties. However, this also highlights the most important challenges for the industry in the coming years. Above all, there is rapidly increasing competition as more (trade) companies recognize the fresh-cut sector as a growth market. In addition, the transport of small quantities and mixed pallets of goods is a logistical challenge. After all, the individual product requirements, which vary from customer to customer, are also an important in the convenience sector.

Framework program
Michael Möhring from Erfa Food Service presented an interesting aside: “Vegetables are the new meat,” pointing to the culinary importance of fruit and vegetables at this moment in time. Therefore, fruit and vegetable traders have so much to gain if they can adapt in time to enjoy the huge potentials of the fresh-cut segment by adapting their range accordingly.

Julia Jeliferenko and Stephanie Hahne at the booth of Levenig Fresh GmbH

Matthieu Serrurier from the French Competence Center for fresh-cut fruit and vegetables informed his audience that the French convenience sector is growing steadily as well. Consumption has been stable for about three years, and according to the latest figures, three in four French people are familiar with sliced and packaged salads.

Left: Michael Möhring describes the great potential of the fresh-cut industry.
Right: Market researcher Giancarlo Colelli represents the rapidly growing sector in Italy.

According to Giancarlo Colelli, market researcher at the University of Foggia, Italy is also working intensively on convenience products. Here, the domestic fresh-cut consumption shows large regional differences. Regarding various convenience products, consumption in the northern regions is twice as high compared to that of the south. According to Colelli this has everything to do with the different levels of prosperity and the high levels of unemployment in the south. As a result, Italians from the south prefer unprocessed fruit and vegetables.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Stefan Töpfl from the German Institute of Food Technology talks about the interesting processing techniques and mechanisation options in the convenience industry. Currently, two technologies dominate the convenience market: High Pressure Processing (HPP) and Pulsed Electric Fields (PEF). Future improvements to existing technologies will create new product opportunities and significantly expand the already developed fresh-cut segment, Töpfl said.

Left: Claudia Schuh describes today's challenges for the packaging industry.
Right: Hans-Christoph Behr represents the growing fresh-cut industry in Germany.

Claudia Schuh from packaging manufacturer Lorentzen & Sievers claimed that packaging has become a sensitive topic, especially in the fresh-cut market. The chosen sustainability strategies determine the final packaging. Despite new possibilities, plastics are still unavoidable, says Schuh. Furthermore, plastic is often lighter, uses less material and can be transported more efficiently. So alternatives are not necessarily always more environmentally sustainable.

Ms. Silke Schwartau of consumer center Hamburg describes the requirements of today's consumer. Right: Ms. Van Lenteren looked at the role of seed supplier Rijk Zwaan.

Seed supplier Rijk Zwaan has also been involved in the development of optimal varieties for the fresh-cut market since 2000. It is no coincidence that, according to Bauke van Lenteren, the company works closely with producers, processors and -of course- retailers. An absolute sign of success of this partnership is the launch of the Knox salad, which delays discoloration of the lettuce, even after processing.

Silke Schwartau of the local consumer center deals with the prevailing opinions and feelings of consumers. More than 80 percent of respondents condemned the use of unnecessary packaging or plastic waste. Other factors that consumers emphasize include full product transparency (including the date of packaging and best-before date), product safety, more attention to presentation and shelf visibility, and insights into pricing.

Left: ‘Intense’ tomatoes are particularly suitable for fresh-cut purposes.
Right: Thomas Kühnle of Edeka Handelsgesellschaft presents the challenges for the food retail trade (LEH).

On behalf of supermarket chain Edeka, Thomas Kühnle is responsible for the fruit and vegetable segment within the Rhine-Ruhr region. He sees a number of interesting social developments that stimulate the fresh-cut segment. More and more German mothers have a (part-time) job and the German employee has to deal with quite a lot of stress, so low-cost meals and convenience products are increasingly preferred. On the other hand, 'uncompromising freshness' and a flawless and versatile selection are certainly requirements of the consumer.

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