Covid-19 remains "in firm control" of how consumers buy fresh produce

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Covid-19 remains

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to have a huge influence over how and where consumers spend their money on fruit and vegetables, with retail fresh produce sales in October up by 7.5 percent year-on-year.

Fresh produce generated $4.86 billion in sales during a four-week period in October — an additional $339 million in sales versus the same time period in 2019, according to a joint report by 210 Analytics, The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and IRI.

This encompasses $64 million in additional fruit sales and $278 million in additional vegetable sales.

"Eight months into the pandemic, the virus remains in firm control of how and where people spend their food dollar. Everyday sales have been on a slow march back to normal and restaurant transactions had come within 10 percent of prior-year levels," said 210 Analytics President Anne-Marie Roerink.

Many of the pandemic shopping habits had started to normalize by September, but a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases in October challenged further restaurant sales recovery, in combination with outdoor seating capacity being affected by colder temperatures in Northern states.

Joe Watson, VP of Membership and Engagement for the PMA said: “We all remember the days we looked closely at the decimal when studying growth percentages. To see that produce sales are up 10% year-over-year ten months into 2020 is very telling.

"At-home consumption remains elevated across meal occasions, particularly among families with children who are in virtual schooling or people working from home. Our opportunity is to support consumers with meal planning and preparation during everyday and holiday weeks in the months to come to help them integrate fresh produce across meal occasions."

In fruit, berries remain dominant in sales, but there are also strong apple and grape sales, according to Jonna Parker, Team Lead for Fresh at IRI.

“Not all top 10 areas gained in sales, in fact grapes, bananas and peaches lost some ground versus year ago. But on the other hand, berries, melons, mandarins, tangerines and lemons still up double-digits gains in October 2020 versus the same time period in 2019," she said.

The top 10 in sales on the vegetable side included eight items that had double-digit increases versus year ago and none that lost ground.

“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,” said Watson.

“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.”

Total fresh produce sales at retail in September were up by 10.7 percent year-on-year.

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