Nowadays, there’s a lot of choice in the field of snack vegetables, but snack tomatoes have received the most attention. Yet snack cucumbers and snack bell peppers have also gained popularity in recent years. Will these vegetables take over supermarket shelves in the next few years?

“Snack cucumbers and snack bell peppers are growing, the line continues to rise, but it’s not as if they’re becoming the new standard,” says Aad van Dijk, Senior Product Manager for Vegetables for The Greenery. “Everything combined, you’d have an area of nearly 50 hectares in the Netherlands for both snack cucumbers and snack bell peppers. The Dutch area for snack tomatoes is 5 to 10 times larger. I don’t expect they’ll conquer a spot between the 5 to 10 main products such as vine tomatoes and red bell peppers.”

Health and convenience trend
“The ideas for smaller cucumbers have been around for 30 years. The market was just not ready for it yet. Health is becoming an increasingly more important theme, and the convenience trend is clearly visible, and snack cucumbers and snack bell peppers are a part of that just as much as snack tomatoes.”

In the field of snack tomatoes, the assortment has become quite extensive now. Aad: “You can choose between all kinds of shapes and colours, sweet or less sweet and many different varieties. The only question is whether consumers also experience it that way. You hope so, of course, but if it doesn’t show in appearance, it becomes more difficult. In consumers’ minds, tomatoes are primarily red.”

Investing in improvement
The developments in the field of snack cucumbers and bell peppers are more gradual. Aad: “For years, a good-tasting snack bell pepper with no seeds has been looked for. It’s still a small product with small volumes and a small share of turnover on the total fresh produce assortment. Agriculturalists are working on its development, but it’s not a main priority, there’s a long way still to go. When you invest in a new product, you have to believe it’ll become a booming business. Looking at the profit snack vegetables make in shops, that’s the case, but volumes are much smaller. That’s why you always have to carefully consider if such an investment is worth it.”

“We all want it to become a full segment on shelves, that snack cucumbers and bell peppers will be a standard part of it. This can now be said of snack tomatoes, these are everywhere, and year-round. If we want that to happen for snack cucumbers and bell peppers as well, agriculturalists will have to create varieties that taste well and that are productive and therefore interesting to produce. Consumer matters such as flavour, shelf life and appearance will follow.”

According to Aad, the aim shouldn’t be to develop increasingly larger miniature varieties. Aad: “In snack tomatoes I’ve also seen a trend that the tomatoes are gradually becoming larger again. Cost price production appears to become increasingly important again. That’s a bad thing for the product, because its distinctive factor is in danger of being lost this way. In our production lines at The Greenery, we safeguard a maximum weight, so that we can continue to meet expectations of our consumers.”

In the meantime, growth isn’t easy. Aad: “You need a considerable market to sell one hectare of snack vegetables. For every snack cucumber or bell pepper sold, ten snack tomatoes are sold.”

Snack tomatoes have now more than earned their position. “The same is true for snack cucumbers and snack bell peppers. The target audience for these products is just smaller. People are more likely to eat tomatoes raw instead of bell peppers.” For that reason, Aad doesn’t expect snack versions of courgette and aubergine. “Those vegetables aren’t appealing raw, they’re mostly eaten in hot meals.”

Ad Verhoeven.

There’s plenty of competition as well, and not just from snack tomatoes. Aad: “Plenty of developments can be seen in the field of having a healthy drink with a snack in particular. Cauliflower rosettes, celery sticks in a punnet with sauce, carrot balls: these are the products on the rise. Products that are well-suited to the convenience trend, that can be offered ready-to-eat.”

Summer fruit
Snack vegetables can also easily be taken with you on the road, to the beach for example. Yet Aad has noticed a slump in demand for vegetables particularly in the summer period. “Fruit is more popular in summer. When people can choose between tomatoes and strawberries, 90 per cent of the people choose strawberries or cherries. There’s plenty of fruit in summer in any case.”

“The marketing surrounding snack vegetables actually goes on throughout the year, that’s not specific for summer. There’s always an occasion for a campaign. One week supermarket A will have an action, the next it’ll be supermarket B. The actions have no influence on demand or prices of snack bell peppers or cucumbers.”

No mass production
In the next few years, Aad expects the snack vegetables to continue growing, but not as explosively as snack tomatoes. “If a grower decides to add five hectares of snack cucumbers or snack bell peppers tomorrow, it’s not certain that would be wise. The market isn’t ready for an explosive growth yet, nor for a sudden increase in supply. That’s why you still see many small growers with small areas. In Germany, the small growers can be seen growing their products locally with much attention as well. These aren’t products yet that lend themselves to mass production.”

Snack cucumber pioneer
Since 2006, Ad Verhoeven has been one of the few growers of snack cucumbers in the Netherlands. He switched from growing regular cucumbers to the snack version, after he found a snack cucumber variety he wanted to try to market. Ad: “Ever since, it’s been a long road, and it actually still is.”

The biggest challenge for Verhoeven QH is supplying the product year-round. Ad: “There was one year we didn’t supply year-round, but we soon found out it’s important to supply 52 weeks per year to have proper customer relations. That’s why we went to Spain, and from then on, the product started growing, albeit with small steps.”

“We’re doing our best to get snack cucumbers of the highest quality on the shelves. That should result in a good turnover rate. It’s not as if we can just supply everything to supermarkets. We can only sell our product if there’s demand. For that reason, the area won’t suddenly start growing either.”

Since 2017, half of the 3.7 hectares of snack cucumbers have been LED illuminated. That costs money, and this is reflected in prices on shelves as well. The labour intensity of the production also results in prices not yet comparable to those of snack tomatoes. Ad: “We harvest seven days a week, and sometimes even twice a day in summer. We can’t go much lower in prices, but production automation could be a solution.”

For more information:
The Greenery
Aad van Dijk

Verhoeven QH
Ad Verhoeven