There are signs that the U.S. economy — at least as it is expressed in the U.S. retail produce department — is gaining some traction.

The latest United Fresh Produce Association FreshFacts on Retail report showed dollar sales for all produce items up 2.9% for the 52-week period ending June 30, aided by a 1.9% increase in volume and 0.9% higher average prices. 

Continuing the first-quarter trend, fruits enjoyed a strong second quarter, with 5.3% sales growth propelled by 3.6% higher average prices and a 1.6% boost in volume.

Vegetables, on the other hand, are still recovering from a bout of deflation early in the year. The FreshFacts finds sales were off 1.4% for the quarter, while volume increased 1.4% and average prices dipped 2.7%.

The second-quarter 2012 report, released in partnership by United Fresh with Del Monte Fresh Produce and the Nielsen Perishables Group, also revealed continued strong growth for organic produce, with a 14.6% sales gain for organic vegetables and a 20.3% sales increase for organic fruit.

Observers say most produce categories have shown increased volume and higher prices, giving the distinct impression that consumer confidence may be returning. Consumers appear to be returning to the packaged salad category and buying less bulk lettuce.

Value-added fruit and vegetable sales were also strong, another positive indicator of consumer confidence.

There will be mixed fortunes ahead, no doubt. Apple prices are higher than a year ago and potato prices are lower.

But in a time of relatively strong inflation in other food categories, the produce department should be in a position to perform well for the trade and the consumer.

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