U.S.: Fresh produce retail demand "still well above 2019 levels"

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U.S.: Fresh produce retail demand

Fresh produce growth at U.S. retail has shown a very slight downward trend since the beginning of May, but sales still remain much higher than over the same period in 2019.

Year-over-year growth for the week of May 31 versus the comparable week in 2019 was 13.2%, according to IRI data cited in a joint report by PMA, IRI and 210 Analytics.

Frozen fruit and vegetables increased the most, up 28.8%, despite "continued high out-of-stocks and severely limited assortment availability for both frozen vegetables and fruit", the report said.

“Fresh produce has grown in double-digits for 11 out of the last 12 weeks,” said Joe Watson, VP of Membership and Engagement for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA).

“While gains eroded by about a point this week once more, demand is still well above 2019 levels. As an industry, we sold an additional $2.7 billion in fresh produce since the beginning of the year at retail, or 944 million pounds. At the same time, restaurant demand is strengthening across the country with trucks full of fresh produce hitting the road once more.”

With an additional US$166 million in fresh produce sales, or 87 million pounds, growth for the week ending May 31 came in at +13.2%. Vegetables, up 18.8%, easily outperformed fruit, which has fallen back into single-digit gains.

While strong, growth rates have dropped by one to two percentage points each week since the last week of April.

Fresh vegetables have seen the stronger performance throughout with double-digit gains for all but one week since mid March.

Fresh produce dollar gains track ahead of volume

Memorial week was the first time that dollar gains tracked slightly ahead of pound gains since the onset of the pandemic. During the final week of May, this trend accelerated, with dollars increasing 13.2%, while pounds grew 10.1%.

Both fruit and vegetables saw volume growth tracking ahead of dollars the week of May 31 versus the comparable week in 2019.

However, the volume/dollar gap for fresh vegetables was just 0.6 percentage points. In fruit, dollar gains are tracking 3.7 points ahead of volume, signaling price increases.

Fresh fruit performance

“Like we have seen for the last four weeks, fruit gains lost about one point and dropped just below +9% the week of May 31 versus the same week year ago,” said Jonna Parker, Team Lead, Fresh for IRI.

“Oranges continued to amaze with gains upward of 70% throughout the entire month of May. Citrus is a logical choice for consumers looking to boost immune systems and solid supply is meeting this elevated demand.

"Cherries were the biggest grower of all fruits and vegetables this week and were the number four in terms of sales, generating $65 million for the week. The strong volume is allowing retailers to utilize cherries in ad and front of store to herald the arrival of summer, even in these unprecedented times.”

Five out of the top 10 items in terms of dollar sales saw double-digit increases during the week of May 30 versus the comparable week in 2019, whereas grape and tangerine sales continued to see dollar sales pressure.

Fresh vegetable performance

All top 10 vegetable items in terms of dollar sales gained double-digits the week ending May 31, with the exception of carrots that fell just below +10%.

“Vegetables had been outgrowing fruit for a few years,” said Parker. “But that disparity got amplified amid the pandemic. Fresh vegetables are still pacing nearly 20% above last year’s levels nearly three months into the pandemic.

"Many more consumers are cooking and 23% plan to cook from scratch more often going forward. Manufacturers and retailers have an opportunity to innovate around solutions to the top cooking challenges consumers say they are facing, including coming up with new meal ideas, finding inspiration to cook, having the right ingredients on-hand, and accessing more quick and healthy meal creation options.”

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