New opportunities in star-shaped vegetables

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14 Sep 2017 --- Back in August, FoodIngredientsFirst reported on Tesco revamping its fruit and veg aisles in a bid to include popular carbohydrate substitutes and vegetable-based meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As part of the retailer’s commitment to clamping down on food waste in its stores and supply chain, Tesco is revamping the fresh produce aisles – traditionally a place where shoppers purely bought their fruit and vegetables.

Instead of offering just fruit and vegetables, Tesco's fruit and vegetable aisles now offer shoppers more than 400 fresh, healthy ready meals, snacks and side dishes following a two year period of high demand for prepared food from Tesco customers which have grown 10 percent, the equivalent of an extra 1.5 million items.

Tesco says the popularity of freshly prepared meals is having a knock-on effect towards grower suppliers and the environment because many of these types of dishes and snacks allow growers and producers to utilize all of their crops, such as cauliflower, carrots, swedes, broccoli and butternut, leading to less food waste.

For instance, cauliflowers considered too small to sell on their own are now being used to make cauliflower couscous – a healthier replacement for carbs – among other prepared veg dishes. While wonky-shaped carrots are also being used to make carrot spaghetti, another healthier alternative to carbs.

“For growing numbers of shoppers the fruit and veg aisle is now the first destination they will head to, to find innovative and delicious new meals if they are pressed for time and looking for fresh food they can cook quickly,” says Tesco prepared produce buyer Elizabeth Hall.

Demand at Tesco has particularly rocketed over the last two years with spiralized vegetables such as zucchini or carrot spaghetti increasing by 40 percent.

Healthy fruit snacks such as melon and mango “fingers” are also up 400 percent and on account of their growing popularity, Tesco is ready to extend its range of prepared vegetable, fruit and salad dishes.

“Healthy foods such as butternut fusilli and butternut lasagna sheets are meeting the needs of customers wanting to cut down on carbs and look after themselves through simple alternatives,” adds Hall.

Just last week, Tesco announced their first ever range of fresh vegetables aimed at encouraging kids to eat healthier food. The range is beginning with easy-to-eat, star-shaped butternut squash bites. It will then roll out to include other fresh produce including smiley sweet potato faces.

Traditionally a technique used for products like tinned alphabet spaghetti and frozen potato dishes, this is the first time this approach has been used for fresh fruit and veg.

Tesco has taken learnings from how children relate to foods with interesting shapes and sizes and hope it will help make mealtimes more engaging and fun and encourage them to explore a wider range of vegetables.

Hall said: “We want to give parents a helping hand with encouraging their kids to eat more vegetables. We’ve taken away a lot of the hassle out of preparing vegetables like butternut squash, which might deter busy cooks at home, whilst also making them more appealing to children.”

“We hope by adding a touch of novelty, we can make vegetables the deliciously nutritious and fun part of every meal,” she explains.

The move by Tesco to create the child-friendly vegetable shapes has been welcomed by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU).

Ali Capper, chairman of the NFU’s Horticulture Board said: “Congratulations to Tesco for addressing how we can we can instill a love of fruit and vegetables in children from a very young age. We have long been calling on food manufacturers to create fun-shaped fruit and veg for children in smaller-sized portions, which we believe could have a role in helping reverse the current obesity crisis.”

“We work with our growers and suppliers to make sure we use as much of their crops as possible to prevent food waste. Besides these stars, butternut is used to make our carb alternatives such as fusilli, spaghetti, lasagna sheets, as well as wedges and soups.”

“These Butternut squash stars are a brilliant way to excite kids with great tasting, high-quality vegetables that also helps producers who are able to sell even more of their crop,” notes Hall. The creation of the butternut squash stars is the latest way Tesco partners with growers so that no edible food goes to waste. She added: “At Tesco, we’re passionate about tackling food waste from farm to fork.”

The Butternut Squash Stars are available in 200 Tesco stores across the UK and will cost £1.50 (US$1.97) per 250g pack.

Elsewhere, China-based Fruit Mould Co. specializes in creating fruit and vegetable molds to transform everyday fruits into fascinating shapes, such as hearts and stars. Based in Suzhou, Jiangsu, Fruit Mould Co. is the firm behind contraptions worldwide to help people make odd-shaped produce.

Its website says: “Fruit Mould Co., Ltd specializes in creating one of a kind, high-quality fruit, and vegetable molds to transform regular fruits into wacky and weird shapes that you've never seen before. Imagine square watermelons, heart-shaped cucumbers and Buddha shaped pears.”

The molds work by farmers placing them over the stems of growing produce and then allowing the fruit and veg to slowly fill them as they develop. Some molds are even designed so there can be words put on the items – including heart shaped apples with the word “love” across them. The company also offers custom designs through its website.

You can read the first part of this report here

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