Fresh produce posts another strong week with 17% sales growth

Fresh produce posts another strong week with 17% sales growth

Fresh produce dollar sales growth has exceeded 17% in back-to-back weeks, leveling out for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.

According to IRI, for the week ending May 10 fresh vegetable sales were up 23.1% compared to 2019, and fresh fruit sales were up 11.7% — numbers almost identical to the previous week.

“While tempting, it is still a little too early to make the call on how high the new normal lies above the old baseline,” Jonna Parker, team lead for fresh for IRI, said in a news release. “I have no doubt about it, the changed everyday demand is driving sizable sales gains versus year ago.

“But we also saw that the meat supply chain issues drove more people to stores to stock up on meat and poultry, from which produce likely benefited as a complementary purchase,” Parker said. “And importantly, the shift from dining out for Mother’s Day to in-home cooking also benefited produce this week.”

Anne-Marie Roerink, principal of 210 Analytics, described that development as a key lesson for grocery retailers about holidays during the pandemic. Consumers are still celebrating occasions despite the pandemic; they are just going about those celebrations differently than they have in previous years, she said in the release.

While stay-at-home restrictions are now being lifted in some states and some businesses are reopening, Parker asserted that retailers still need to get better at selling produce online, as many people will still be doing a larger portion of their shopping in that channel than they did previously.

“This time of year, with all the summer fruits and vegetables coming out, many retailers set up eye-catching displays and powerful holiday cross-merchandising displays,” Parker said in the release. “Knowing shoppers are rushing while in-store and are trying to minimize their trips, we need to challenge ourselves on how we can create virtual cross-merchandising and holiday displays in digital ads and online ordering platforms to support and inspire those purchases and celebrations.

“Just received the best batch of watermelons in years? Talk about it on social media and prompt excitement among your shoppers to partake,” Parker suggested.

Berries, lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes and oranges led the way in absolute dollar growth for the week ending May 10, with peppers, onions, avocados, mushrooms and melons rounding out he top 10. For some of these items, however, dollar sales were not as strong as volume sales.

“On the fruit side, we saw significant decreases in the price per volume versus the same week last year for items such as pineapples (-17%), peaches (-14%), avocados (-13%) and melons (-10%),” Joe Watson, vice president of membership and engagement for the Produce Marketing Association, said in the release. “For each, we see volume sales far exceed dollar sales, so the consumer demand is there, but the market conditions are putting pressure on price. But we are starting to see a few areas with price increases too, including tangerines, up 11% in price per volume versus year ago.”

On the vegetable side, items with large volume-dollar gaps included onions, celery, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. Dollar sales remained strong, however, for potatoes, the produce item that throughout the pandemic has benefited more than any other from significantly increased retail sales.

All top 10 vegetables saw double-digit growth for the week ending May 10.

“This is elevated everyday demand at work,” Parker said in the release. “Excellent and prolonged gains in items like lettuce, potatoes, peppers and onions can only mean one thing: America is cooking. And that will have positive impacts for a long time to come.”

Fresh-cut salads saw dollar sales up 11.7% from the same time in 2019.

“The strength of frozen meal solutions shows that consumers are still looking for convenient dinner options in addition to their ‘quarantine cuisine’ from-scratch cooking,” Parker said in the release. “For convenient lunches and dinners, cross-promote rotisserie chicken and ready-made salads, particularly for online pickup or delivery orders taking place in the late afternoon and early evening.”