Produce sales rebound in U.S. at start of April -

U.S.: Fresh produce sales bounce back at beginning of April

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U.S.: Fresh produce sales bounce back at beginning of April

Fresh produce sales growth at U.S. retailers rebounded at the beginning of April, reversing the falling weekly growth rates they had been experiencing since their mid-March peak.

Sales in the week ending April 5 were up 14% year-on-year, compared to 8% for the week ending March 29, according to a report by 210 Analytics in collaboration with IRI and the Produce Marketing Association (PMA).

Fresh fruit and vegetable sales both experienced the same trend. Fruit sales were up at 7.4% having seen only a modest year-on-year rise of 1.5% for the previous week, while vegetable sales were registered 21.4% higher, up from 15.2%.

Meanwhile, frozen produce sales in the week ending April 5 were up 47.4% year-on-year, slightly higher than the previous week, while canned produce remained stable, showing a 48.1% increase.

“Sales for the first week in April were likely influenced by the earlier Easter and a higher everyday demand that is driving a new baseline that sits well above the old normal,” said Joe Watson, VP of Membership and Engagement for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA).

“At the same time, sales results must be seen against the backdrop of many stores having shortened opening hours, closed service departments, metered entry of shoppers, purchase limitations on popular items and continued out-of-stocks for others.

"Also think about the effects of canceled events like March Madness on popular produce items used in entertaining.”

Fresh produce

Compared with the same week in 2019, fresh produce generated an additional US$170 million in sales at the beginning of April, of which US$129 million was generated by vegetables. 

It is important to point out that stockouts and purchase limits may have affected reported gains, says Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics. Additionally, distributors are finding creative ways of going consumer-direct and some restaurants now selling groceries. Those sales are not reflected in these numbers.

Source: Source: IRI, Total U.S., MULO, 1 week % change vs. YA

The all-important question is how much of a role price played in all this, with the heavily reduced foodservice demand providing ample produce supply.

At the onset of coronavirus in the U.S., dollar and volume sales were relatively close together for total produce, at +0.4% for dollars and +1.3% in volume.

Starting with the week ending March 22, volume sales far exceeded dollar sales, which would indicate deflation setting in at retail for some areas. For the week of April 5, volume increases exceeded dollars by nearly five percentage points.

Source: Source: IRI, Total U.S., MULO, 1 week % change vs. YA

The gap was widest for vegetables, particularly the last two weeks. For the week ending April 5, volume sales gains for vegetables were more than 10 points higher than dollar growth.

For the fourth week in a row, potatoes were the growth leader in absolute dollars, selling US$35 million more than in the comparable week in 2019, or +66.9%.

Others that gained big in dollars were berries (+$17 million), onions and tomatoes (+$15 million, each) and oranges (+$14 million).

However, at the category level, big differences between dollars and volume were observed for some fruits and vegetables as well.

“Avocados, onions and carrots are three big ones that jump out at me,” said Watson. “Others outside the top 10 in absolute dollar growth were limes (16 percentage point volume/dollar gap), asparagus (13 points), Brussels sprouts (14 points), cabbage (12 points) and celery (30 points).

"Celery has been a top seller amid the juicing trend, but for the week of April 5, dollars are down 3% whereas volume sales were up 27%.”

Fresh Fruit

Fresh fruit sales growth rebounded to an increase of 7.4%. Berries saw the biggest gain in absolute dollars, up $17 million over the week of April 5 versus the comparable week in 2019. Oranges were right behind, up nearly $14 million in comparable week sales, representing a 60.5% increase.

Other big contributors in dollars avocados (+$9 million or +19.6%), bananas (+$6.5 million or +10.4%) and lemons (+$6 million or 42.2%). Berries, apples and bananas remained the largest categories.

“While challenging given shoppers’ current grocery shopping patterns, generating demand is crucial for fresh fruit,” said Jonna Parker, Team Lead, Fresh for IRI.

“Fruit typically benefits from eye-catching displays and impulse sales and the early indicators are fewer trips and more online ordering for the foreseeable future. I’m encouraged to see retailers leverage oranges merchandised as vitamin C displays and introduce more bagged produce to help speed up shopping and give consumers ease of mind.”

Indeed, several shoppers commented on loose and unbagged items on the Retail Feedback Group’s Constant Customer Feedback (CCF) program.

“Many produce items are loose and unbagged, thus allowing the potential for contact by other customers,” noted a shopper on the CCF program.

“I suggest bagging produce items prior to putting items out on shelves.” Another said, “I love the touchless hand washing station in the entry way. It would be nice to see that in the produce section as well. I imagine people touching fruits and veggies and then putting them back is a good way to spread disease.”

“Despite continued reassurances that fresh produce is safe to consume, we are dealing with a situation where perception is reality,” said Parker.


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