U.S. retail fruit sales in April even higher than last year, as value-added 'makes a comeback'

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U.S. retail fruit sales in April even higher than last year, as value-added 'makes a comeback'

U.S. fresh fruit sales at retail in April were even higher than the same month in 2020, despite the significant boost in sales last year amid the onset of the pandemic.

Fruit sales in the four weeks through April 25 were up 1.5 percent year-on-year, despite total vegetable sales - which had a very strong April 2020 - coming in 8.8 percent down. Total dollar sales in the fresh produce department were 3.6 percent lower.

However, in comparison to the 2019 pre-pandemic normal, fresh produce sales at retail were up 10.3%, according to IRI data cited in a joint report by IRI, 210 Analytics and the PMA.

This means that demand is holding around the same level seen in the third and fourth quarters of 2020. Because of the shift to both canned and frozen during the early weeks of the pandemic last year, declines in these areas are much bigger, at -19.0% for frozen fruits and vegetables and -32.5% for canned vegetables.

“We know the year-over-year picture will likely be off for a few months, but it is very encouraging to see that demand is holding strong versus the pre-pandemic normal,” said Watson.

“All indicators point to consumers moving around more and that could mean fewer meals consumed at home. Keeping an eye on the demand versus 2019 will help us understand the at-home versus out-of-home balance, which is imperative for demand forecasting.”

Watson also mentioned that restaurant sales are rapidly gearing up, which for fresh produce as a whole will likely mean a "more balanced supply chain".

In fresh fruit sales, berries remained the leading category, up 3 percent year-on-year in the four April weeks. Looking at the other top-ten items, there was also slight growth for grapes, and growth of around a quarter for melons and pineapples. The mixed fruit category, meanwhile, saw monumental 97 percent growth.

Those that saw declines were apples, bananas, avocados and mandarins.

“In fruit, we are seeing some interesting changes as people are moving around more,” said Jonna Parker, Team Lead, Fresh for IRI. “While berries remain the untouchable number one, the sales of melons and mixed fruit show that value-added is making a comeback.

"We have not seen mixed fruit in the top 10 sellers all year, but with a year-over-year gain of 96.6% and a robust 16.6% increase versus the 2019 pre-pandemic normal, people are definitely re-engaging.”

In fresh vegetables, tomatoes were the biggest seller, but fell by 8 percent. Packaged salads grew strongly with a 21 percent uptick, and cucumbers were the only other top-ten vegetable to see growth.

“Vegetables’ enormous strength in 2020 means a much tougher road now,” said Watson.

“Yet, we see packaged salads’ dollar sales still ahead of those 2020 peaks, at +20.7% along with cucumbers that also managed a gain, at +2.1%.”  In comparison with the 2019 pre-pandemic baseline, all vegetables were up in April, with the highest gain of 26.0% for packaged salads.

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