U.S. retail sales of fruit will grow modestly in the next five years and vegetable sales may not grow at all, according to new estimates from the Mintel Group.

The United Kingdom-base research group said that inflation-adjusted U.S. retail fruit sales — with fresh fruit accounting or 84% of the category — will rise from $34.6 billion in 2013 to $36.1 billion by 2018. That represents annual growth of from zero to 1.1% during those years, according to Mintel’s report. Fruit sales growth from 2008 to 2013 on inflation-adjusted prices was 3%, and Mintel predicts a 4% gain in inflation-adjusted sales during the next five years.

U.S. retail vegetable sales — dominated by a 75% market share for fresh vegetables and fresh-cut vegetables — will remain flat, according to the report. Inflation-adjusted vegetable retail sales are predicted to remain basically unchanged— from $68.2 billion in 2013 to $68.3 billion in 2018. Inflation adjusted prices for vegetables showed vegetables sales grew only 4% from 2008 to 2013, and Mintel forecasts no significant sales growth for the category from 2013 to 2018.

While the report looks at sales dollars, Elizabeth Pivonka, president and chief executive officer of the Hockessin, Del.-based Produce for Better Health Foundation, said PBH research also indicates that volume of fresh produce sold at retail has been flat in recent reporting periods.

“Generally what we are seeing is that (consumption) is relatively flat across the country and people still need to eat twice of what they are currently eating,” she said.

Supply challenges could work against attempts to increase consumption, she said.

Pivonka said a grower recently told her that widespread labor shortages may trim the fresh produce acreage in the spring of 2014, which could reduce supplies and raise prices.

She said there are some recent upward shifts in fruit and vegetable consumption for children between two and 12 years old, particularly for children ages two to six years old. In addition, Pivonka said PBH research indicates consumption growth in the 18- to 35-year- old demographic. Teens and the elderly, on the other hand, will eat fewer fruits and vegetables, Pivonka said.

 Fruit on the rise

Another report, on fruit consumption, is encouraging, Pivonka said.

The Oct. 31 report from research firm The NPD Group says that fruit has passed milk, vegetables and carbonated soft drinks over the last decade and now ranks number two on the list of top ten foods Americans eat.

“Fruit is the number-one snack and dessert in the United States and now makes up 6% of end dishes we consume,” Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst and author of Eating Patterns in America, said in the report. “The movement toward more fruit over the last decade is, in my opinion, a movement toward the need for natural.”

An emphasis on “natural, may reflect an interest in weight management, according to the release.

The NPD Group’s eating trends research indicates more than 30% of adults are obese, but that number has stopped climbing in recent years. That leveling off in obesity was first evident in a NPD eating trends report a decade ago, according to the release.

“We may not yet be losing weight, but we’ve stopped gaining weight,” Balzer said in the release,

NPD data shows that the number of Americans with a body mass index of 25 or higher has not increased since 2002. Meanwhile, the number of adults who are obese, those with a body mass index of 30 or greater increased until 2011 but has since stabilized.

While health concerns play a role in the American diet, the cost of food and the need for convenient preparation are also major drivers in our food and beverage selections, Balzer said in the release.