Produce retail sales still well above 2019 baseline

Produce retail sales still well above 2019 baseline

Fresh produce sales at retail totaled $4.86 billion in October, up 7.5% from the same period in 2019, as consumers continue to stay in their homes more amid the pandemic.

The fresh share of the produce dollar was 81% in October, down from 84% in 2019 overall, according to IRI. Frozen, which has a much smaller produce dollar share at 9%, continues to see significant growth over 2019 overall, when its share of the produce dollar was 6%.

“The fresh share moves up and down a bit depending on the month but remains down compared with the 2019 level ... ” Jonna Parker, fresh team lead for IRI, said in a news release. “Consumers still want to have multiple weeks’ worth of food in their freezers, fridges and pantries. In our most recent shopper survey in October, more than three-quarters aimed to buy enough to have one to two weeks’ worth of groceries and 15% aimed to buy three to four weeks’ worth.

“This desire to have backup will likely lead to continued strong sales of frozen and shelf-stable fruits and vegetables in addition to fresh gains,” Parker said.

Fresh vegetable sales for October were up 11.7% compared to the same period in 2019, while fresh fruit sales were up 3.0%, according to IRI. Vegetables have outperformed fruit throughout the pandemic, largely because of the resurgence of home cooking.

“Comparing the strength of the top 10 players in vegetables to the more mixed performance in fruit shows why fresh vegetables have been a pandemic powerhouse,” Joe Watson, vice president of membership and engagement for the Produce Marketing Association, said in the release. “Tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, peppers, onions, mushrooms and more are all meal ingredients, predominantly in dinner and lunch. Their continued strength underscores Americans are still eating more meals at home.

“At the same time, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers have done a terrific job in merchandising against the snack meal occasion, and clearly that is paying off in big year-over-year sales gains,” Watson said.

While top performers in the vegetable category have been consistent throughout the year, top performers in fruit have more often reflected the seasons.

“In fruit, berries remained dominant in sales, but you can see fall has arrived with strong apple and grape sales,” Parker said in the release. “Not all top 10 areas gained in sales. In fact, grapes, bananas and peaches lost some ground versus year ago.

“On the other hand, berries, melons, mandarins, tangerines and lemons (had) double-digits gains in October 2020 versus the same time period in 2019,” Parker said.

Overall, produce retail sales are expected to remain strong through the holidays, though fewer people will be engaging in Thanksgiving gatherings this year, according to IRI. A recent consumer survey by the organization found that only 26% plan to host or attend a meal with family who don’t live with them, down from 48% last year.

“These predictions point to many potential changes for the produce department,” Anne-Marie Roerink, principal of 210 Analytics, wrote in the release. “Some shoppers are predicting serving different meats or several smaller gatherings. This may result in different fruits and vegetable choices.

“Much like the pandemic-affected holidays to date, grower-shippers and retailers may consider messaging and promotions that help shoppers find new ways to make the holidays special at home or on a tighter budget, and retailers should plan for an earlier spike in holiday item purchasing than last year,” Roerink wrote. “One in five people plan to shop more than three days earlier than last year, either to avoid crowds or out-of-stocks.”