Produce sales remained elevated in the first week of July. ( IRI, 210 Analytics, Produce Marketing Association )

Fresh produce dollar sales for the biggest holiday week of the summer totaled $1.54 billion, up 9% from 2019.

Sales of fresh vegetables for the week ending July 5 were up 13.9% from the same time last year, while sales of fresh fruit were up 5.2%, according to IRI.

“Independence Day is always a big holiday for fresh produce, so this is not an easy bar to beat,” Joe Watson, vice president of membership and engagement for the Produce Marketing Association, said in a news release. “Despite all that has changed amid the pandemic, much is the same as well. Cherries, melons, corn and more all lived up to their holiday strength reputations and helped drive the significant boost over last year’s numbers.

“Now we need to keep that summer spirit alive in the next seven weeks until Labor Day,” Watson said. “We know many people are having staycations, are looking to build their immune systems, and yet others are at a loss for new meal ideas. All these are big opportunities for fresh produce.”

While canned and frozen produce saw higher growth for the week ending July 5, fresh regained its pre-pandemic dollar share of 84%, which had fallen as low as 70% in March.

“We have overcome ungrounded shopper concerns about food safety, and by educating shoppers about items with longer shelf life to make it through the week with items for now and items for later, we can further increase our share in the months to come,” Watson said in the release.

Berries, melons and cherries topped the fruit category with sales of $154 million, $126 million and $86 million, respectively, according to IRI. Lettuce, tomatoes and potatoes topped the vegetable charts with $169 million, $95 million and $71 million, respectively.

All of the top 10 vegetables in weekly sales saw growth over 2019, and seven of the 10 vegetables experienced double-digit growth.

Jonna Parker, team lead for fresh for IRI, noted that vegetables continue to benefit from many families continuing to cook at home rather than go out to eat.

“Wave 14 of our weekly shopper survey showed that consumers are preparing 84% of all meals at home right now,” Parker said in the release. “While down a little from a high of 89%, this means continued elevated opportunity across all meal occasions for fresh vegetables.”

She noted that lunch is an especially key opportunity because 38% of the work force expects to be working from home five days a week, compared to 15% before COVID-19.

That survey also showed that, because reopening of businesses has slowed as more cases of the virus have been reported, attitudes about moving toward “normal” have shifted some.

“Thirty-eight percent now say they are more concerned than they were last week, and 41% of Americans are bracing for longer duration, expecting the health crisis to last at least 12 more months,” Anne-Marie Roerink, principal of 210 Analytics, wrote in the release. “Given the rising concern and the rolling back of restaurant re-openings, foodservice produce demand may plateau, while consumers once more flock to supermarkets for their produce needs.

“It is likely that dollar gains at retail will sit above the 2019 baseline for the foreseeable future,” Roerink wrote. “Depending on price, volume gains may see some pressure as consumers have been diverting dollars to frozen and canned for high inflationary categories or substituted for lower-priced items.”