Fresh produce sales stay high in November amid strong citrus performance

Retail fresh produce sales stay high in November amid strong citrus performance

Fresh produce sales in the U.S. retail sector remained significantly higher year-on-year in November, amid a strong performance by the citrus and tropical fruit categories.

Sales of fresh fruit and vegetables were up 8.2% in the month. The 8.2% gain for fresh produce was slightly higher than the 7.5% during the October weeks and gains year-to-date remain unchanged at +10.0% versus the same time period in 2019.  

“Retail produce sales delivered a strong performance in November,” said Joe Watson, VP of Membership and Engagement for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA).

“The very different Thanksgiving celebrations benefitted retail, but ultimately balance between retail and foodservice is what benefits our industry as a whole. The end-of-year celebrations are likely to look equally different and looking back at the lessons from Thanksgiving may help streamline operations for the weeks to come. It is likely we will see highly elevated online orders, earlier shopping and different choices to accommodate for the smaller gatherings.”

Fresh produce generated $4.9 billion in sales during the November weeks — an additional $380 million in sales versus the same time period in 2019. This encompasses $107 million in additional fruit sales and $273 million in additional vegetable sales.

Vegetable sales have outpaced fruit sales throughout the pandemic and have generated double-digit growth since the onset of the pandemic shopping patterns in mid-March. Fruit did have its best performance since July 2020.

Jonna Parker, Team Lead for Fresh at IRI, said that in fruit, berries remained dominant in sales but the strength of citrus is "tremendous".

“Citrus fruit is up 14.7% year-over-year in November, the highest of all the areas within fruit," she said.

Another area that is doing well is tropical fruit, with a gain of 7.8%, whereas mixed fruit is off 9.5% and stone fruit also fell below last year’s levels in November, at -2.7%.”

Meanwhile, the top 10 in sales on the vegetable side is a strong reflection of Thanksgiving classics.

“Between potatoes, celery for stuffing and sweet potatoes it is clear that shoppers are still thinking about the fresh produce department for their Thanksgiving classics,” said Watson.

“The strength of salad kits, lettuce, peppers, etc. is indicative of continued at-home meal preparation and healthful snacking. I believe paying special attention to lunch needs is one of our biggest new sales opportunities with students in virtual schooling and many adults working from home.”

What's next?

Everyday demand continues to drive strong vegetable sales and slightly weaker fruit sales — though still well ahead of last year’s levels. Concern over COVID-19 is rising again after falling over the summer and early fall.

In the Nov. 13-15 IRI survey wave with primary shoppers, half of Americans were more concerned about COVID-19 than they were the week before. This is almost double the rate as seen in mid-October with rising concern among all age groups. This is driving people back to ecommerce, for groceries and holiday shopping.

Stockpiling rates also started to rise again, with almost a third stocking up on pantry staples/essentials more in the past two weeks than before COVID-19 (up from 24% a month ago). This was not enough to impact availability for most products, however, there was a slight increase in toilet paper out-of-stock issues.

Looking toward the end-of-year holidays, 44% of Americans are worried that the holiday celebrations will cause a spike in COVID cases and over one-third are not looking forward to the holiday season as much as usual because their celebrations will be curtailed.

Americans are planning to reduce their gatherings as they did for Thanksgiving. Only one in four plan to celebrate with others outside their household, about half the rate of last year.

“Manufacturers 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,” added Parker.