(Aug. 28, 9:50 a.m.) Making produce more convenient for consumers is one key market opportunity highlighted in a just-released study of fresh produce department performance and opportunities.

The study, released by the West Dundee, Ill.-based Perishables Group, measures sales growth in 2007 compared with 2006 and suggests opportunities for retailers and produce marketers to boost sales in the coming year.

In looking at profit opportunities, the study also points to greater sales potential in marketing to children and providing consumers more options to buy locally grown and organic produce.

The Perishables Group released its annual “State of the Department” reports in late August for produce, meat, seafood, deli and bakery. Those five segments are considered the five core perishable departments.

Key findings offered in the produce department report by The Perishables Group:

  • 2007 produce department sales were up 3.7%;

  • In 2007, the produce department contributed 33.2% to total perishable sales. That is a 0.1% increase in share compared with last year;

  • Vegetables accounted for 48% of produce department sales and fruits accounted for 44%, the study found. However, fruit sales grew at a faster rate those vegetables;

  • Led by berries and apples, organic fruit sales grew at more than double the pace of organic vegetable sales;

  • Fresh-cut produce sales have fallen off double-digit growth rates, but still experienced moderately stronger overall growth than whole produce;

  • Empty nest and senior couples buy the most produce, followed by families with older children; and

  • Interest in exotic fruits is spilling over to the fresh-cut sector, with fresh cut mango and papaya sales up sharply in 2007.