NEW YORK – Cauliflower is white like rice — and can apparently mimic its taste, too.
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Swapping out the rice and potatoes in dishes with chopped-up cauliflower has gained traction with low-carb dieters. Now, struggling vegetable maker Green Giant is hoping the "cauliflower rice" trend — which has led to some Trader Joe's quickly selling out of bags of its house version in some areas — will go mainstream and help it reverse years of declining sales.
Green Giant plans to start selling bags of frozen "Riced Veggies" made with cauliflower, as well as frozen "mashed cauliflower" at the end of September. It has been selling bags of fresh "Cauliflower Crumbles" that are a bit larger in produce sections for about a year.
Others are in on the trend, though, which could hamper Green Giant's ambitions. Trader Joe's began selling frozen "Riced Cauliflower" last year and a fresh version this year. Wegmans, a Northeastern grocery chain, has been selling a house brand for a little over a year.
Kroger began rolling out "Cauliflower Pearls" similar to Green Giant's crumbles in select locations in July, with plans to make them available at its supermarkets nationally. Producer Taylor Farms notes overall cauliflower sales in the U.S. rose 13 percent last year, and that people are using chopped cauliflower as a replacement in recipes for rice, mashed potatoes and pizza crusts.
To capitalize, companies are doing the prep work of chopping for what they hope is a growing legion of cauliflower heads.
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Whether the fad has staying power remains to be seen. In its food trends report based on searches between 2014 and February, Google listed cauliflower rice as a "rising star." That means it experienced sudden growth but might not last.
Parents have long used similar tricks to sneak more vegetables into children's diets. But now more grown-ups are using swaps, like replacing pasta with shredded zucchini, to cut the carbs in starchy dishes.
The nation's carb phobia is apparent in sales of dry pasta, which have declined since 2009, according to market researcher Euromonitor. Sales of rice, however, have edged up annually since 2011, suggesting it has been relatively shielded and that "cauliflower rice" may remain niche.
Jordan Greenberg, vice president of marketing at Green Giant owner B&G Foods Inc., thinks vegetable swaps are more than a fad, and that a "fundamental shift" is underway in how people look at their plates.
"I believe vegetables will move from the side of the plate to the center," he said.
It's a big bet for B&G Foods, which purchased Green Giant from General Mills Inc. last year and counts on the brand for more than a third of sales. Since 2011, Green Giant's frozen vegetables sales in the U.S. have declined 25 percent to $477.6 million, according to Euromonitor.
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