The melon category suffered a predictable decline in retail sales and volume in 2011 because of a listeria outbreak, and berries were again a star performer in fresh produce departments.
Berries are the largest produce category, and it gained 7.1% in dollars and 3.7% in volume, according to Steve Lutz, executive vice president of the Chicago-based Nielsen Perishables Group.
Retail sales numbers for fresh produce in 2011 show that total produce sales were up 4.3% in 2011, while volume declined by 1.1%, Lutz said.
The average price for all produce items was $1.42, up 5.5% from a year ago.
“Dollar increases have been driven by price increases with volumes sliding down,” Lutz said.
Lutz With the listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupes in September weighing heavily on cantaloupe sales, the entire melon (cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew and other varieties) category dipped 2.4% in dollars and suffered a volume decline 6.4% in 2011. The average price for all melon items was 61 cents per pound, up 4.3% from 2010, Lutz said.
Melon volume for December alone was down 18%, the largest drop of any produce category, he said.
Lutz said the performance of the melon category in 2012 will be influenced by a number of variables, including planting decisions and consumer demand.
“If it is like what we saw with spinach going back four years, there was about a six- to eight-month period where they stayed down 20%,” Lutz said. “The history of these things is that you do tend to lose some consumers.”
For retailers, Lutz said the question is whether they can make up for lower cantaloupe sales with increased sales of watermelon or honeydew.
Lutz said retailers are increasing their promoted, or advertised, prices compared with a year ago.
“Promoted prices are quite a bit higher than the non-promoted price increases,” he said. Non-promoted prices were up a little over 4%, while the promoted prices are up 8%.
“It basically means when retailers promote, they aren’t promoting as aggressively as they have in the past and they aren’t getting the (volume) lift,” he said.
Besides berries, fresh-cut fruits and vegetables were a bright spot in 2011, Lutz said.
Packaged salads rebounded somewhat in 2011, Lutz said, as sales grew 2.5% and volume increased by 0.2%.
“They have been declining over the past few years, especially during the recession, as consumers opted for lettuce instead of packaged salads,” Lutz said.