US: Fresh produce retail reports strong rise in berries in March

As mobility continues to increase in the US, fresh produce sales fell in most areas in March compared to last year's peaks in grocery retail; although demand remained ahead of the 2019 pre-pandemic baseline.

Big increase in berries

The notable exception to this declining trend is berries, since in addition to being the best sellers, they achieved strong sales increases both compared to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019, with an increase of more than 28% year-on-year with an increase of more than 9%.

Neither total trips to the store nor basket size could match last year's peaks. Fruit and vegetable department sales for the four weeks ending March 28 were down 7,6% year-on-year.

Pandemic demand

However, compared to 2019, fresh produce retail sales increased 11%, according to a joint report by 210 Analytics, PMA and IRI.

“We knew the year-over-year landscape would change dramatically in March as we faced the early pandemic peaks of 2020,” said Joe Watson, vice president of Membership and Engagement at the Produce Marketing Association.

"But while the outlook from a year ago is always important, it is so important to understand current demand in relation to pre-pandemic normality, as the country begins to open up a little more every day."

Fresh produce

Fresh produce sales were unchanged at $ 5.4 billion from February 2021, a decline of $ 435 million year-over-year, but were up $ 524 million from the 2019 pre-pandemic normal.

This includes a $ 242 million increase in fruits and a $ 283 million increase in vegetables compared to the 2019 baseline.

Watson explained that the prices of fresh fruits and vegetables increased between 8 and 9% of March 2020 levels.

Seven of the 10 best-selling fruits lost ground to the tremendous sales of 2020. However, berries, melons and pineapples sales increased compared to the first weeks of the pandemic.

“In fruit, the top 10 lineup measured in dollar sales is pretty typical,” Watson said. "Berries are the number one untouchables, almost doubling the sales of number two apples."

Vegetables

With the exception of packaged salads and cucumbers, all fresh vegetables experienced a year-over-year decline, however compared to the 2019 pre-pandemic normal, all vegetables increased with the highest gain of 26% for packaged salads.

“The enormous strength of vegetables in 2020 means we are seeing a lot of declines compared to levels from a year ago,” Watson said.

Going forward, the country's pent-up demand for restaurant dining is translating to 40% expecting to go out to dinner as often or more often than before the pandemic, the survey indicated.

“Understanding where the balance between home spending and out-of-home spending is relative to pre-pandemic will help our industry with demand forecasting,” Watson said.

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