After competing with Easter 2019 the previous week, produce sales growth returned to double-digits the week ending April 26. ( Charts courtesy IRI, 210 Analytics and PMA )

Retail scan data from IRI show fresh produce sales returned to elevated levels in late April.

Vegetable dollar sales for the week ending April 26 were up 30.4% compared to the same week in 2019, fruit dollar sales up 16.2%, and produce overall up 22.9%.

“Last week was a hard one to judge because of the Easter effect,” Joe Watson, vice president of membership and engagement for the Produce Marketing Association, said in a news release. “It is terrific to see that retail produce sales did very well this week. This is great momentum as we get ready for the summer fruits and vegetables to hit the market.

“With at least some states starting to reopen restaurants, albeit at limited capacity, foodservice orders may help strengthen the overall produce demand further in weeks to come,” Watson said.

The gap between dollar sales and volume sales remained narrowed compared to late March and early April, but certain items saw more significant disparities.

“On the fruit side, we saw significant decreases in price per volume for items such as avocados (-16.1%), grapes (-12.5%) and tangelos (-9.9%) this week,” Watson said in the release. “On the vegetable side, onions had a strong 37.3% boost in dollars, but volume sales were up 55.1%, with the retail price per volume down more than 11%.

“Others with high decreases in the price per volume were celery (-24.8%), peppers (-12.6%) and Brussels sprouts (-6.6%),” Watson said. “On the other hand, we saw some upward pressure as well for other items, particularly potatoes, with dollar sales still going strong, (up) 50.8%, and volume up 38.7%. Retail potato prices were 8.8% higher versus the same week last year.”

For fruit, the highest-growth categories remained oranges (71.0%) and lemons (49.1%), but berries (27.1%), avocados (18.8%) and bananas (14.9%) also had a strong week.

Read more of our coverage on how COVID-19 is affecting the industry and how the industry is responding here.

On the vegetable side, eight of the top 10 items in dollar sales saw growth of more than 30% versus the same week in 2019, per IRI. Potatoes continued to be the top mover, but mushrooms weren’t far behind with 45.9% growth. Squash (40.7%) and peppers (43.0%) also saw significant increases.

The week ending April 26 also marked the first double-digit dollar sales growth for packaged salads since the early weeks of the pandemic, up 17.9%.

“I believe we’ll see a bounce across the store in health-and-wellness oriented foods in May,” Jonna Parker, team lead for fresh for IRI, said in the release. “Swimsuit season is around the corner, and especially after the quarantine period, consumers will be more concerned than earlier in the pandemic with what they are feeding their bodies.

“This is a potential power moment for fresh produce,” Parker said.

Fresh continues to slowly gain back ground compared to frozen and shelf-stable, according to IRI. Its share for all of 2019 was 84%, and fresh currently sits at 79%.

“This is the third week in a row that fresh produce has increased its share of the total fruit and vegetable dollars across the store,” Parker said in the release. “Shares are not quite back to normal yet, but they have come a long way from the key panic buying weeks ending March 15 and 22, when the share of fresh was down to 70%. Consumers remained highly engaged with frozen and canned, but fresh is making a comeback.”