Packer Interview Steve Lutz April 6
( The Packer )

The Packer’s Tom Karst visited April 6 with Steve Lutz, senior vice president of insights and innovation for Category Partners.

Lutz looked at consumer purchases in the last two weeks of March, and made observations about the strength of citrus in what has been a high-performing produce department overall.
For the week ending March 21, Lutz said orange sales averaged 57.5% above the same week a year ago. Mandarins were 45.7% higher than the same week last year and lemons were 45.7% higher. 

By comparison, apple sales for the week ending March 21 were up 40.8%, banana sales were up 26.4%, grape sales were 16.7% higher and avocado sales were up 29.6% compared with the same week a year ago.

“Obviously produce is strong, and it’s been strong across the department,” he said. “If you look specifically at fruits, mandarins, oranges, even lemons and limes have had a growth rate that has been above the average for total produce,” Lutz said. 

Whether that means consumers value the “health halo” for citrus more than other commodities is hard to say, Lutz said.
In other remarks, Lutz talked about how ongoing retail sales compare with pre-lockdown levels. While March saw successive weeks of big gains in retail sales of produce, Lutz said the new normal seems to be settling in.

“If you look at week-over-week compared to a year ago, and a lot of cases were only up about 10% to 15%,” he said, citing the most recent sales data for the week ending March 28 that showed totaled produce sales up 16% compared with the same week a year ago.

“I think what we’re seeing now is there’s an elevated level (of sales) because of the loss of foodservice channels, but it’s falling back to in the neighborhood of 10% to 15% week over week growth (compared with a year ago),” he said.

Looking ahead, a key factor will be consumer spending power, particularly for young consumers.

A recent consumer survey by Category Partners showed that in the segment of the population from 18 to 44 years old, 20% said they had either been furloughed or lost their job.