To Mist or Not To Mist?

Mar 2017

How do you like your fresh fruit and vegetables?

Do you like your apples regularly peppered with droplets of fresh water, as if they’ve been plucked from a dew-soaked tree that morning – or do you just want it fresh, crisp and dry before you buy?

In the U.S. and Canada, automated misting machines are everywhere, with an estimated 80% penetration in the U.S. marketplace. Walk into any U.S. Safeway or Walmart, and you have to dodge the cool mists of water that spray out regularly to keep the fruit and vegetables looking colourful, hydrated and fresh.

Misting machines, says the industry, gives a good first impression, as well as doubling shelf life and cutting weight loss by reducing vegetable dehydration. Along with the smell of freshly baked bread and freshly cut flowers, adding a dewy mist to your fruit and vegetables can enhance the customers’ sensory experience as they walk in through the door.

So why in the UK and Europe are we so indifferent to having our fresh fruit and vegetables misted down, with an estimated 1% of retailers outside the U.S. using them?

Morrisons installed misting machines in over 300 of its UK stores but removed them all last year after it was claimed it made the stores look too upmarket and alienated its core customer base. A spokesman for the company told The Grocer magazine that removing the misting machines was “about going back to basics, using simpler refrigeration techniques and Morrisons’ traditional strengths in fresh food management to ensure that our vegetables stay fresh.”

While Booths, a chain of high-end supermarkets in northern England, introduced vegetable misting tables to its Knutsford store in a move to deliver more innovative and impactful displays.

More recently Carrefour opened a ‘natural’ sustainable hypermarket near Turin this year with a misting system that keeps the quality and colours of products the same all day long, and claims to increase sales by 25%.

So should we be misting more or not?

From a personal point of view misting is purely emotive. If I’m going to buy a certain product, I’m going to buy it regardless of whether it is wet or not. From a business point of view there can be unnecessary health risks attached if the time isn’t taken to clean and maintain the spraying equipment. Any bacteria found on the produce could be easily be spread through run off and cause water born bacteria such as Legionella, so for me maintenance would be a key issue with any new misting system.

Robin Norton, a shopper scientist and principal director of grasp business development says, “I first saw misting machines in action in Scandinavia over a decade ago and honestly found it surprising and slightly baffling. If what we’ve already got does the job and keeps produce fresh and the quality up, why do we need the mist? What does it do?”

“There may have been a different shopper experience attached to misting, but to take a very functional shopping trip and transform it into something else – with little explanation or evidence to shoppers in-store – feels too much of a stretch. Morrisons took that big, bold initiative to roll it out but any added value of misting appears to have been lost on the consumer and many Morrisons’ investors (myself included). Yes, it was a different in-store experience, but there is no point in being different for the sake of being different, it has to be useful. If there was a point to misting it didn’t come across. Any UK supermarket thinking about introducing misting now would need a very strong argument because misting is in negative territory right now and retailers would be better off starting with a softly-softly approach, from the top down, to build any kind of acceptance.”

So is misting our fruit and vegetables a shopping experience the Brits would rather do without? Whether it’s our cultural differences or they’re just too out there for our British nature it seems we’ve got a long wait before we get the sprinklers back.

Reference
80% of American retailers use misting machines The Produce News
Misting systems increase sales up to 25% more, Natural Misting

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