Profiting from Pickles

Tapping into the healthy eating and fermented trends, pickles pick up steam

When it comes to today’s trends, pickles check all the boxes. This food is a healthy, flavorful and fermented vegetable that is a hand-held, convenient and portable snack.

In supermarket delis, pickles are sold individually as a grab-and-go snack or side component and are commonly used as an ingredient in sandwiches and burgers.

“Fresh pickle sales are up 23% in the last 26 weeks (from July to December 2020),” says Patty Amato, senior vice president, Farm Ridge Foods, Islandia, NY. “Fresh pickles have earned their wings and are flying off the shelves.” 

In data calculated by New York-based market research firm Statista based on the U.S. Census data and Simmons National Consumer Survey, 245.85 million Americans consumed pickles in 2020. This figure is projected to increase to 252.73 million in 2024.

A 2016 report by Technavio entitled Global Pickles Market 2016-2020, states that the global pickle market is expected to reach a value of $12.74 billion by 2020.

Production & Types

Pickles are produced using either lactic acid fermentation with or without the addition of salt or fermented in vinegar with salt and sugar.

Pickles are fat free and low in calories. According to Washington, D.C.-based Pickle Packers International, an average-size dill contains only 15 calories and an ounce of pickled peppers provides only 7 calories.

There are a number of pickle varieties. The most popular is dill, which includes both Polish and German styles. Sweet pickles also are big sellers, with bread and butter, no-salt and both sweet and hot types available. Sour and half-sour pickles are another type on the market. 

There are various production methods for pickles. Refrigerated pickles are cucumbers placed in jars, then covered with a seasoned pickling liquid before being immediately refrigerated, according to Pickle Packers International. With this method, the entire fermentation process takes place under refrigeration. After these crispy pickles absorb the seasonings, they are shipped. This type needs to be refrigerated and also has an expiration date due to a shorter shelf life as compared to fresh pack pickles. With fresh pack, clean cucumbers are placed directly into jars and covered with a pickling solution of vinegar and seasonings. With this method, the containers are vacuum-sealed, quickly heated to pasteurize and then cooled. Fresh-pack pickles are generally crispier and less acidic than processed pickles. They also retain some of the flavor and color of fresh cucumbers. 

With processed pickles, cucumbers are placed in a large tank, where a salt brine solution provides full fermentation for one to three months, according to Pickle Packers International. The salt is added gradually throughout the process to evenly permeate the cucumbers. When fermenting is complete, the pickles are removed from the tanks, rinsed of excess salt and placed in jars with additional seasoning. These pickles are distinguished by a dark green, translucent appearance and sharper flavor.

In terms of sizes and formats, pickles are sold whole, with smaller sizes such as gherkins and midgets available. There are also halves, slices, spears, strips, chips and chunks to accommodate a wide range of uses.

What’s New and On Trend

Although pickles are a simple food, there have been a number of unique product launches as well as packaging innovations.

Farm Ridge Foods recently introduced Grab N Go Single Serve Pickle Pouches in six different varieties—Dill Sandwich Slices, Dill Halves, Vegetable Medley and Hot Vegetable Medley.  

“We are ever-evolving with trendy flavors and seasonal flavors,” says Amato. “The best part is, besides the great taste, it is low calorie, fat free, gluten free, non GMO and vegan.”

Waterloo, WI-based Van Holten’s has offered spicy pickles for years, but recently added a co-branded variety, Tapatio, to its lineup with a co-licensing deal. It provides the flavor of the popular Mexican hot sauce combined with the traditional pickle taste.

“One of the things we’re seeing in delis and in general is spicy profiles taking off,” says Eric Girard, Van Holten’s vice president of sales and marketing. “Tapatio has a Mexican flavor profile and is a great, small family brand that has grown.”

Yee-Haw Pickle Co., based in Crested Butte, CO, recently launched a couple wall deli pickle products.

“We’re seeing clean label trends, specifically in deli,” says Andrew Cesati, co-founder of the company. “We have a clean label, refrigerated from start to finish cold brine pickle that is acidified with vinegar, but uses no firming agents like polysorbate 80.”

Yee-Haw’s new line is jarred in glass, not plastic, containers, which are recyclable.

“Our products are grab-and-go oriented, so our packaging is a single-serve pickle in a pouch,” says Girard at Van Holten’s. “Our newer items are pickle cuts, which are pre-cut in a bag.”

Van Holten’s products have individual UPCs, as well.

“In today’s environment, single servings have become more important,” Girard says. “Food sharing is not what it used to be.”

Successful Selling

With more consumers shopping the perimeter of supermarkets, it provides added opportunity for the pickle category.

“People are looking for different options in that space,” says Cesati at Yee-Haw Pickle Co. “Shoppers are looking for fresher foods, and the wall deli targets that shopper.”

Yee-Haw’s marketing budget is limited in terms of its packaging, but the appearance speaks to its message of simplicity and clean ingredients.  

“It’s more pared down, since we went with the approach that it’s fresh, made yesterday type of message, “ Cesati says. 

Yee-Haw runs pickle promotions four to five times a year to encourage shoppers to pick up its product.

“We shoot for $1 off promos and align it with the holidays like summer barbecues,” Cesati says. “We expect to see continued growth, as consumers look for fresher options and healthier snacks. Shoppers are more discerning now and seeking clean labels and approachable flavors. Quality and consistency are key for pickle manufacturers.”

Farm Ridge Foods’ fresh pickles are best merchandised with the deli salads , such as potato salad, mac and cheese and cole slaw. Amato says the most impactful packaging consists of clear containers to show the vibrant, crisp pickles with a colorful label.

As a smaller company, Van Holten’s is not involved in direct mail campaigns or newspaper ads, but instead focuses on supporting retailers that carry its pickles.

“I just got off the phone with a retailer who was discussing selling more sandwiches,” says Girard. “We support retailers with on-the-shelf promotions and support their loyalty programs whether on an app or through social media.”

Looking ahead, manufacturers concur they see the pickle category continuing on a growth trajectory for the future.

“Pickles will only grow,” Girard says. “This food is keto friendly, and low in both carbs and fat. And there are health benefits in eating anything fermented, so pickling in general will continue to grow.”“Fresh pickles are the next best thing since hummus,” she says. “They are very versatile as a healthy snack and sandwich topper to charcuterie boards and cocktail ingredients.” DB


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