retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

Just how hot it cauliflower rice?

Consider the following:

• To contain shopper frenzy and ration supplies, Trader Joe’s had to enforce a two-bag limit per customer on its frozen organic riced cauliflower at select suburban stores. Among millennials in Manhattan, it’s the grocery equivalent of “Hamilton” tickets.

• Both the "Today Show" and Time magazine last month declared cauliflower the new “it vegetable” and Business Insider called the pulverized rice version “Silicon Valley’s new obsession.”

• Enthusiastic foodies and home chefs are flooding Instagram and Pinterest with cauliflower rice photos and recipes. The #cauliflowerrice hashtag alone has more than 115,000 posts on Instagram.

• A how-to-prepare cauliflower-fried-rice-four-ways video has racked up 679,000 views on YouTube.

• And not surprisingly, and almost certainly inevitably, the USA Rice lobbying group is displeased, saying “only rice is rice” and it may ask the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to look into the matter of chopped vegetables co-opting the rice designation.

From a business perspective, it’s interesting to chart how retailers and manufacturers have capitalized on the public’s demand for cauliflower rice.

For many following a low-carb, gluten-free or paleo diet, cauliflower rice is a perfect substitute for pasta, potatoes and traditional rice.

Cauliflower rice contains less than one-eighth the calories of white or brown rice and about one-ninth the carbs.

Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods were in the forefront of the cauliflower rice craze. Whole Foods introduced a 365-branded frozen cauliflower rice last year, and it quickly rose to the No.4 position of the store’s top-10 frozen vegetables.

Trader Joe’s launched its frozen cauliflower rice, then a fresh offering in the produce section and most recently an in-demand cauliflower pizza crust, which Bon Appetit claimed was “causing a ruckus” in stores.

Among manufacturers, look for Green Giant and Birds Eye to be duking it out in the freezer case. Since MNB wrote about Green Giant expanding its vegetable line last November to boost sagging sales, the company has more than doubled its line of cauliflower-based offerings to nine varieties in all. Birds Eye responded by introducing a line of Veggie Made pastas, and also seven varieties of riced and mashed cauliflower.

Retailers are also processing fresh cauliflower, and I’ve seen offerings at my local Acme and Stop & Shop and on Wegman’s website. Taylor Farms cauliflower “pearls” are available at major chains such as Kroger’s.

We staged a cauliflower rice taste test to compare, cooking up portions of three fresh versions - Trader Joe’s fresh cauliflower rice ($2.49 for 16 ounces); Urban Roots from Whole Foods (a pricey $5.99 for 10 ounces), and Stop & Shop ($4.49 for 12 ounces). We also tried three frozen varieties, Green Giant (12 ounces for $3.19), Trader Joe’s (12 ounces for $1.99) and Whole Foods 365 (12-ounce bag for $2.99).

Among the fresh offerings, Urban Roots tasted a little nuttier, the Stop & Shop version had a cabbage after-taste and the Trader Joe’s kernels were more like dice, and less like rice. Of the frozen choices, there was little difference in taste or texture.

So for price, taste and shelf-life, I’d choose the much coveted Trader Joe’s frozen version for $1.99, when available. Whether fresh or frozen, cauliflower rice can be bland and is tastiest when cooked with olive oil or a sauce.

Green Giant, Bird’s Eye and major retailers definitely face the challenge of getting younger consumers to purchase more frozen vegetables. If marketed properly on social media, I think vegetable side dishes and pastas could be a game changer.

Comments? As always, send them to me at kate@morningnewsbeat.com .
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