Fresh produce growth slows at U.S. retail as foodservice sector reactivates
Fresh produce growth at U.S. retail in the week ending June 14 slid into the single figures for only the second time since the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The weekly growth level of 9.8% follows 13% the previous week, and marks the continuation of a gradual downward trend in sales as the foodservice sector gets back on its feet and lockdown restrictions are eased.
Fresh vegetable growth was 14.1%, down from 17% the previous week, while fresh fruit growth was recorded at 6.1%, down from 10%, according to IRI data cited in a joint report with 210 Analytics and PMA.
"Seemingly, fresh produce has entered into a more consistent sales trend over the past four weeks," said Joe Watson, VP of Membership and Engagement for the PMA.
"However, looking deeper, inflation is also rising in produce, fresh, frozen and canned. While the two big summer holidays, Father’s Day and July 4th have the ability to significantly boost produce sales at retail, states are continuing to open more widely.
"It will be interesting to see how consumers re-engage and we will be watching demand on key items. Retailers are gearing up for the strong summer season with fruit taking center stage now through Labor Day."
Jonna Parker, Team Lead, Fresh for IRI, said: "More than three months since the two biggest panic buying weeks in the history of grocery retailing, vegetable gains are still in the mid-teens versus year ago whereas the fruit performance is much more up and down.
"Gains in vegetables illustrate that consumers are still engaging in a lot more at-home meal occasions and the challenge now becomes how to keep those meals fun and varied. Provide tips and recipes on social media and in-store to help consumers with their meal line up fatigue."
With dollar gains at +9.8% during the week ending June 14, and volume sales at +7.6%, the gap between fresh produce volume and dollar gains narrowed slightly to 2.2 percentage points.
This marks the fourth week where dollar sales outpaced volume sales, but compared with the 15-point volume/dollar gap in fresh meat, produce inflation remained relatively mild.
The top three growth items in terms of absolute dollar gains for the week of June 14 versus year ago were lettuce, tomatoes and berries.
“Looking at absolute dollar gains shows how quickly things change from week to week,” said Watson.
“In the past two weeks, cherries jumped to the top in absolute dollar gains but this week berries reclaimed their top three position, with cherries in fourth.
"Oranges climbed a few spots to fifth and potatoes dropped out of the top five for the first time since the onset of coronavirus in early March. Cucumbers are a newcomer to the top 10 produce items in absolute dollar gain, pushing onions off the list."
Strong demand is driving volume along with dollar gains across the board. While some fresh produce items are seeing inflation, for others, prices remain depressed.
Inflation is seen for several tropical and citrus fruits, including mangoes, papayas, tangelos and tangerines. On the vegetable side, inflation is seen for items such as asparagus, beans, corn, garlic and potatoes. Continued volume/dollar gaps persist for other areas, including avocados, cherries, Brussels sprouts and celery.
“The strengthening demand coming out of foodservice combined with the continued elevated demand seen in retail will continue to balance out supply and demand in the coming weeks,” said Watson.