Produce sales remained elevated in the final week of May. ( IRI, 210 Analytics and Produce Marketing Association )

Fresh produce dollar sales remained significantly higher than usual as the calendar flipped to June, with growth still driven by the vegetable category in particular.

For the week ending May 31, fresh fruit sales were up 8.6% compared to the same period in 2019, and fresh vegetable sales were up 18.8%, according to IRI.

“Fresh produce has grown in double-digits for 11 out of the last 12 weeks,” Joe Watson, vice president of membership and engagement for the Produce Marketing Association, said in a news release. “While gains eroded by about a point this week once more, demand is still well above 2019 levels.

“As an industry, we sold an additional $2.7 billion in fresh produce since the beginning of the year at retail, or 944 million pounds,” Watson said. “At the same time, restaurant demand is strengthening across the country with trucks full of fresh produce hitting the road once more.”

Top-selling vegetables experiencing the most growth at retail have been mushrooms (30.5%), potatoes (26.9%), peppers (25.8%), tomatoes (22.8%), corn (21.6%) and cucumbers (20.7%).

IRI data

On the fruit side, oranges recorded 73.9% growth, while cherry sales were up 57.3% and berry sales up 16.6%, per IRI.

IRI data

“It is great to see that despite all that is different in our lives amid the pandemic, summer fruit sales traditions are holding strong,” Watson said in the release. “Week after week it had been lettuce and potatoes that led absolute dollar growth, but this week both cherries and berries jumped over the top of lettuce with a combined $46 million in additional dollars versus year ago. That gives us some good indication that other summer vegetable and fruit trends are likely to hold up as well.”

Jonna Parker, team lead for fresh for IRI, noted that marketing the presence of seasonal items to shoppers before they reach stores will help sustain that trend.

“Fruit sales are typically highly reliant on impulse purchases,” Parker said in the release. “Importantly, in our latest wave of consumer surveys, 42% of consumers said they are spending less time in the store when shopping for groceries than pre-pandemic.

“That means four in 10 consumers tend to hurry through the aisles, which undermines impulse tendencies,” Parker said. “Making sure consumers are aware of a great new batch of cherries or watermelons before they even enter the store has become all the more important.”

Though seasonal fruits are summer staples, retailers should also take care to lean into the popularity of vegetables, which are enjoying unprecedented attention at retail.

“Vegetables had been outgrowing fruit for a few years, but that disparity got amplified amid the pandemic,” Parker said in the release. “Fresh vegetables are still pacing nearly 20% above last year’s levels nearly three months into the pandemic. Many more consumers are cooking, and 23% plan to cook from scratch more often going forward.

“Manufacturers and retailers have an opportunity to innovate around solutions to the top cooking challenges consumers say they are facing, including coming up with new meal ideas, finding inspiration to cook, having the right ingredients on-hand, and accessing more quick and healthy meal creation options,” Parker said.