The Latest in Fresh-Cut Technology & Packaging

Consumers want fresh cuts for a quick breakfast, as a grab-and-go lunch, as an afternoon snack, or as a dinner supplement. Some consumers are looking for a product to eat at this moment, and others are looking for a product to use in a recipe.

The demand for fresh-cut fruits and vegetables is driving innovations in technology and packaging to create high-quality products.

Originally printed in the April 2024 issue of Produce Business.

There’s a trio of top trends steering consumers to buy fresh-cut fruits and vegetables at the supermarket.

One is snacking. More than 90% of all Americans eat one to three snacks daily, according to October 2023-published research. Berry bowls, cut pineapple chunks, and mixed melon cups are all examples of satisfying the need to nosh.

Second is a concern for health and wellness. Half (50%) of Americans claim to be actively trying to eat healthfully, ranging from 58% for Baby Boomers to a low of 44% for Gen Z, according to Statista Consumer Insights data from February 2023. Hand-to-mouth fruits and vegetables like pre-sliced apples and carrot chips fill this bill.

Third, we’re starved for time. The average American has less than an hour (52 minutes) daily to prepare and eat meals, and a third have less than a half hour, based on the fifth annual U.S. Snack Index by Frito-Lay North America and The Quaker Oats Co. And salad kits, fresh-cut veggies and cauliflower rice can fast-forward food on the table.

It’s no wonder fresh-cut fruits and vegetables reached $11.2 billion in sales in 2023, according to Circana multi-outlet data for the 52 weeks ending Nov. 26, 2023.

“What’s propelling the popularity of fresh cuts is a combination of convenience and health, and it’s coming together with our busy lifestyles,” says Bryan Patmore, director of retail sales for Bronx, NY-based Baldor Specialty Foods. The company offers fresh cuts in nearly 30 fruit and vegetable categories, plus over 40 offerings in its Urban Roots Kits line of veggie-focused, chef-crafted fresh cuts, plus ready-to-eat items like salsas.

Patmore says consumers want fresh cuts for a quick breakfast, as a grab-and-go lunch, as an afternoon snack, and as a dinner supplement for their family. “We’re seeing momentum on many different pack sizes because some people are looking for a product for themself to eat at this moment, and others are looking for a product to use in a recipe to feed a family of four.”

“We also know that certain fruits and vegetables are annoying to have to cut,” Patmore adds, confessing he loves mangos, but doesn’t know how to cut them, “So that level of having it done for you makes a difference to the consumer.”


Two more movements are making a case for the growth in fresh-cut produce: online grocery shopping and sustainability.

Over half (56%) of those surveyed for the Online Grocery Shopping Report 2023, by NYC-based tech firm, Chicory, say they were ordering online more frequently than in 2022, and 40% of these respondents reported ordering groceries online weekly.

“As shoppers were more likely to grocery shop online during the pandemic, they overwhelmingly were more likely to buy their produce pre-cut, as they knew exactly what they were getting,” says Vincent Riggio, president of Fresh-Pak, Inc., a Detroit, MI-based fresh fruit, vegetable, and leafy greens processor for retail, foodservice and food manufacturing.

“They didn’t need to worry about ripeness, size, or even freshness, as they knew the product would not expire,” Riggio explains. “Put simply, once a consumer realizes the benefit, and is happy with the quality, they are going to be a customer for a long time,”

Food waste is a big sustainability concern and ranked among the top three food-related concerns by consumers, according to a 2023 poll conducted by MITRE, a McLean, VA-headquartered not-for-profit.

Fresh-cut options minimize waste, which appeals to environmentally conscious consumers and those looking for easy, ready-to-eat product.

“Fresh-cut options minimize waste, which appeals to environmentally conscious consumers and those looking for easy, ready-to-eat product,” says Morgan Stuckert, marketing manager for Immokalee, FL-based Lipman Family Farms, which opened its seventh fresh-cut facility in North America earlier this year in Florida. The company’s extensive range of product offerings includes an assortment of diced and sliced tomatoes, peppers, and onions in various pack types for retail and deli.

It’s no wonder that fresh-cut or value-added fresh produce represented 14.7% of total produce sales for the 52 weeks ending Oct. 29, 2023, according to Circana, Integrated Fresh, MULO data.

“Fresh-cut fruit and vegetables were a growth driver pre-pandemic and after one or two meager years during the onset of the COVID shopping and consumption patterns, have returned as a growth driver,” says Anne-Marie Roerink, principal and founder of 210 Analytics, LLC, in San Antonio, TX.


The top five fresh-cut fruits by dollar sales are melons, mixed fruit, pineapple, berries and apples, according to Circana MULO 52-week data ending Dec. 12, 2023, while the five top value-added vegetables by dollar sales are lettuce, broccoli, carrots, mixed vegetables and mushrooms.

“Carrots and celery are staples that have always performed for us, but onions are one of the vegetables that went through the roof recently,” says Baldor Specialty Foods’ Patmore.

The company also recently added fruit to its lineup as a response to retailers’ requests. “We now offer everything from melons (cantaloupe, watermelon and honeydew) to mango to mixed berries and tropical salads. We’re excited to offer some more interesting options like white and pink dragon fruit, oro blanco, and papaya as well.”

As a fresh-cut processor, says Fresh-Pak’s Riggio, “it is our job to be aware of the next hot item (think kale, Brussels sprouts, etc.). As demographics change, and cultural eating habits merge, we are seeing a huge increase in cut mango demand, dragon fruit and broccoli rabe. We are currently researching ways to create fresh-cut pomegranates and peaches.”

Fresh cuts started as a way for retailers to control shrink by using in-house labor to cut ripe fruits in the back room, says Jason Kazmirski, retail specialist for Charlie’s Produce, in Seattle, WA, which supplies several independent retailers in the Pacific Northwest as well as larger chains such as Fred Meyer and Sprouts. “Today, some of our retailers have continued with in-house private label programs, while others outsource their fresh cuts from us or other fresh-cut processors.”

Kazmirski says current hot items are cauliflower rice, chopped onion, cut fruit platters, butternut squash spirals, and peeled kiwi.

“Most items have a 7- to 10-day shelf life, some five days,” he says. “Ideally, you want the shopper to have two to three days once they get the product home.”


There are benefits for retailers to outsource to a fresh-cut processor.

“Our facility is dedicated only to fresh-cut produce handling, reducing cross-contamination, and improving the food safety of the products,” says Lipman Family Farms’ Stuckert. “It also creates a higher product yield, reduces shrink, and provides 100% usable product. The consistent cuts and sizing ensure a predictable eating experience.”

Most of the fresh-cut equipment used by Fresh-Pak Inc. is manufactured in Europe, says Riggio. “This equipment is for washing, peeling and even slicing and dicing fruit, which has to be done very delicately.”

He says they’re currently working with other companies to help automate the back end of the process — filling, labeling, and packing into cartons — and are looking at robotics. “Not quite there, but we are always exploring.”

For retailers who’d like to keep their fresh-cut operation in-house, Dark Side Equipment, in Denver, CO, offers sleek, efficient peelers.

“There is a huge price gap between the cost of a hand peeler and $100 million industrial cutting equipment,” says Maxwell Krieger, managing partner. “Our equipment is cost-effective for back-of-the-house operations.”

The company’s KA-700 Peel-A-Ton by Astra Inc. comes with three holding prongs and four different blades. It’s pre-programmed with 13 of the most common produce items, including apples, beets, onions, potatoes, kiwis, peaches, lemons, oranges, grapefruits and mangos, with three holding prongs and four different blades. For operations requiring specific items, those can be designated and uploaded via Wi-Fi to the unit.

“This ability can enable retailers to create customized products based on the seasonal availability of fresh produce,” says Krieger. “For example, one retailer we work with includes an oil sachet and spice blend with fresh-cut asparagus spears. Another offers fresh-cut mango with lime and Tajin seasoning. Yet another chain in the west uses husked sweet corn to make Mexican street corn kits.”

The company’s KA-750 Pineapplator can accommodate larger fruits and vegetables, such as pineapple, papaya, melons and gourds. This vertical peeling system offers product yields 15 to 20% higher than traditional hand-peeling.

Robért Fresh Market and Lakeview Grocery, a six-store chain based in New Orleans, LA, makes kabobs, fajita, and stir-fry kits in-house.

“All are made fresh by our teams and are part of our fresh-cut veg program. These products provide a steady flow of incremental sales,” says Terry Esteve, produce and floral director. “It’s suggestive selling to give customers ideas on what to do with our fresh offerings.”

Some fresh produce items like apples, pears, bananas, potatoes, eggplant, and avocados turn brown when cut. To maintain the quality, Fairfield, CT-based NatureSeal, a subsidiary of the Mantrose Group, offers a vitamin and mineral dip or spray to slow browning. This can be applied at a fresh-cut processor or backroom at retail.

“We offer 15 formulations for 30 fresh-cut produce items,” says Tim Grady, director of national accounts.

This technology started as a boon for sliced apples in the 1990s. Today, one of the biggest benefits is preventing browning of pre-made guacamole once the package is opened. NatureSeal eliminates the browning of guacamole for up to five days after opening while maintaining the natural texture, color and flavor, the company claims.

“We’ve seen stores substantially increase their in-house made guacamole sales,” says Grady.


In terms of packaging innovation, “the goal is to get to the longest shelf life possible, both for the retailer and the end consumer, who may come to this category with some distrust of freshness,” says Baldor Specialty Foods’ Patmore, “We are always looking at ways to extend the shelf life while keeping it all natural and avoiding preservatives.”

Safe-T-Fresh is the Shelton, CT-headquartered Inline Plastics Corp.’s patented tamper-evident and tamper-resistant technology, and a best-selling product line for fresh-cut produce, says Carrie Cline, senior brand manager.

“It’s simple, safe, and secure. With hundreds of SKUs in all manner of shapes and sizes, there’s the right package for whatever fresh-cut application is needed.”

Recently, Inline launched a polypropylene line with the patented tamper protection technology, called Safe-T-Chef. Typically, polypropylene is used for hot food applications, however, it’s been used in cold cases with fresh salads, as well as pre-cut vegetables designed to be heated in the microwave while in the package.

In addition, Inline’s entire PET portfolio is made with 10% post-consumer, certified by a neutral third party, SCS Global.

PPC Flex, Buffalo Grove, IL, offers modified atmosphere packaging with hygroscopic properties to prevent fresh-cut fruits and vegetables from dehydrating. Cut mushrooms, cucumbers, peppers, and squash benefit from this type of packaging.

The newest work in progress from PPC Flex, based in Buffalo Grove, IL, is modified atmosphere packaging with hygroscopic properties to prevent fresh-cut fruits and vegetables from dehydrating. Cut mushrooms, cucumbers, peppers and squash benefit from this type of packaging.

“The challenge is that the more hygroscopic, the less clarity, and you want great visibility in packaged fresh-cut fruits and vegetables,” says Joe Bradford, vice president of sales for produce. “We have innovated packaging that offers both.”

Another huge step forward has been tamper-evident clamshells, says Fresh-Pak’s Riggio. “They give a freshly cut feel to the consumer and they allow us processors to remove our heat shrink tunnels and bands from the facility.”