( Photo courtesy of Unsplash; graphic courtesy QPMA )

Grocery sales through summer should remain 15% higher than 2019 summer sales in Canada, according to Nielsen data revealed at an online seminar from the Quebec Produce Marketing Association.

More than 100 people participated in the June 11 seminar, “The impact of COVID-19 on the consumption of fruits and vegetables and its trends in Canada and Quebec,” led by Francis Parisien, vice president of East-of-Canada at Nielsen.

“It’s been pretty interesting for our industry — stressful, that’s for sure. Yet we always reach new heights,” Parisien said, pointing to the sales jumps during panic buying and Easter. Christmas and New Year’s holidays are usually the biggest sales times of the year, “but we’re almost reaching Christmas and New Year’s heights every week,” he said.

Based on shopping trends in China and Europe since the pandemic started there, Parisien said he’s not expecting a big drop in sales by the end of summer.

Eighty percent of the year-to-date growth in Canada’s total grocery sales through the week ending May 2 can be attributed to the pandemic, according to Nielsen.

The rise in cooking at home may transition from a quarantine necessity to a trend.

For the week ending May 23, perishable sales were up by 14% and center-of-store sales up by 16% in Quebec, compared to 2019. For the week ending March 21, that was 42% and 49% respectively, according to Nielsen.

In the first quarter of 2020 in Canada, online sales grew by 44%, dollar store sales rose by 14%, grocery sales by 13%, mass merchandisers such as Walmart by 11% and drug stores by 11%, Nielsen data showed. 

Sales at warehouse clubs, ethnic stores and natural health stores didn’t change much.

However, 47% of Canadians said they’ve made fewer visits to warehouse clubs, like Costco. Parisien attributed the drop to consumers’ desire to get everything in one store and warehouse clubs have about 10% less variety than traditional supermarkets. 

The Nielsen survey showed that 69% of Canadians say they shop at stores that have everything they need for one-stop shopping.

Also, “there’s also a bright future for meal kits, which is big for millennials not taught how to cook,” he said.

Producers are finding alternative ways to connect with consumers, as well as retailers trying to retain volume, such as restaurants selling fresh produce and farmers selling mixed boxes of produce directly to consumers.

The Nielsen data pinpointed four key trends in the Canadian market:

  • Conventional stores gain shares over discount stores;
  • Private brands are growing faster than national brands;
  • Sales of regularly priced items continue to rise over promotional sales; and
  • Center-of-store sales surpass perishable departments.

Even though 68% of Canadians say they’re cooking more at home and 38% say they’ll continue to do so after the pandemic ends, “there’s cooking fatigue,” Parisien said. 

“People are looking for ease and convenience, looking for frozen items. We need innovation in fresh fruits and vegetables. Now is not the time to stop introducing new products,” he said.

Millennials are shopping in stores more, and 19% say they are vegetarian and 11% say they are vegan.

The top five criteria for consumers looking at produce are: manufacturing to highest safety standards; delicious; made from high-quality ingredients; help maintain strong immune system; and bacteria-free packaging.

Parisien’s data also revealed several marketing opportunities. 

Consumers are tired, so marketers can help them by integrating their products into meal solutions or recipes.

They can adapt products to changing consumers needs through packaging, claims and identifying new unmet needs.

“Our duty is to remind Quebecers to adopt and maintain healthy eating habits. Let’s take care of us and others and keep our consumers safe and well fed,” Sophie Perreault, QPMA president and CEO, said on the webinar.

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