- Fresh produce saw slight upward momentum in the first quarter of 2019, attracting $15.3 billion in sales and a 2.2% increase in dollar sales from the year prior, according to United Fresh Produce Association's FreshFacts on Retail Q1 2019 report.
- Factors driving sales included a commitment to eating healthier in the new year and key holidays like the Super Bowl and St. Patrick's Day, which boosted cabbage sales by 30% for the quarter.
- The greatest sales growth belonged to avocados, blueberries, raspberries and broccoli. Organic produce also saw a boost, increasing 8.2% from the year prior and comprising nearly 10% of all produce dollars at $1.5 billion.
As grocers head into the summer months, fresh produce continues to be a strong segment for the grocery industry, with sales accounting for 24% of total fresh sales at grocery stores. Last year, produce sales totaled $60.8 billion, and Q1 results indicate that the department is on track to meet or exceed that figure for the year.
Fresh fruit overall saw a decline in dollar and volume sales, while berries proved to be a bright spot with dollar and sales volumes all increasing at least 5%. This could be due to popular diets that recommend curbing fruit consumption, United Fresh noted in its report, along with a pullback on commodities promotions across the industry.
As far as the produce items that bolster the fruit section's performance, 85% of households buy bananas, while 77% purchase apples and 70% purchase grapes. These classic choices may not be trendy, but they are reliable options and make excellent on-the-go snacks, which could account for some of their popularity. As summer approaches and the bounty of the season provides peaches, watermelon, cherries and other summer fruit favorites, retailers could see a boost in spending on fruit in the coming months.
In the vegetable category, broccoli saw impressive growth with a 16% increase in dollar sales from Q1 2018, and celery was also cited as a hot commodity. The top seller in vegetable was packaged salads, purchased by 79% of households and generating $1.2 million in sales.
Consumers made fewer value-added fruit purchases in Q1, according to the report, but value-added vegetables stayed strong. The dip in fruit sales could be a cue that retailers need to think more carefully about this product offering. As consumers look toward healthier diets and produce moves to the center of the plate, the value-added produce section could be a tool for grocers to attract busy consumers who want to find convenient meal and prep options while still staying on track with new diets.
As indicated in the report, produce remains a central sales driver to grocery stores today, despite increased competition from farmers markets, discounters and nontraditional sources of produce that have cropped up. As the competition gets stronger, retailers will have to think creatively to keep consumers coming back to their stores for produce.