Retail fresh produce sales for the week ending June 28 rose at the lowest growth rate since April 19, according to research firm IRI scan data.
With sales of $1.36 billion, total fresh produce sales for the week rated 5.8% higher than the same week a year ago. Fresh vegetable sales were up 12.5% compared with year-ago levels. However, fresh fruit sales edged just 0.2% higher.
“Banking on elevated everyday demand alone, we expected this week to be down from the prior week,” Joe Watson, vice president of membership and engagement for the Produce Marketing Association, said in the release. “However, the decline to single-digit gains shows that we need to continue to work hard to stay ahead of last year.”
“After (the Fourth of July), we have many regular weeks until Labor Day and going back to our basic merchandising principles to optimize planned and impulse purchases is key.”
210 Analytics, IRI and the Produce Marketing Association jointly release a weekly analysis of how the pandemic affects consumer shopping.
The flat performance of fruit in late June is concerning, Jonna Parker, team lead for fresh for IRI, said in the release.
“With the great assortment of summer fruits and all the added meal occasions, fruit should have good opportunity to gain year-over-year,” she said. “At the same time, we know fruit is much more impulse-driven versus vegetables and the lack of trips no doubt has a negative impact. That means the solution is optimizing planned fruit purchases by driving demand beyond the four walls of the store.”
The weak fruit gains relate to declines in several key summer categories, including melons, cherries, grapes and peaches, Parker said in the release.
“Only the orange category is left with high double-digit gains, with others in low or mid-single digits,” she said. “I think there is a big lesson in the strength of oranges since the onset of the pandemic and that is nutritional benefits.”
The strong performance by oranges during the COVID-19 crisis suggests many more fruits and vegetables could benefit from a focus on nutrition-based promotions, Parker said in the release.
While fruit struggled in late June, the release said all top 10 vegetables increased in dollar sales compared with a year ago.
“The strength in the overall vegetable number comes from high consumer engagement across the board versus just a handful of big sellers,” Parker said in the release.
Despite much lower gains for fresh versus frozen and canned, the produce department still held 83% of total fruit and vegetable sales across the store, according to IRI.
“It is good to see that despite the drop in sales gains, fresh produce maintained its share,” Watson said in the release.
“That means that shoppers were simply buying less overall, not just fresh produce. However, while climbing back up, foodservice sales continue to be down and this is retail’s time to help grower/shippers offset the loss in business on the restaurant side.”
The future of foodservice demand is still uncertain, and the release said Florida, Texas and California all rolled back some reopening decisions. That is likely to have a lingering effect on foodservice businesses.
Between the continued effects of COVID-19 and significant economic pressure, the retail demand for produce will continue to track well above 2019 levels for the foreseeable future, according to the release.
One of the biggest opportunities for the produce supply chain lies with helping consumers with meal planning, according to the release. IRI’s weekly survey found that consumers, who were initially taking to preparing more scratch meals, are running out of meal ideas.