Nobody in the produce industry wants to increase sales at the cost of people falling ill, but the simple fact is that the COVID-19 pandemic has produce sales on the rise. According to IRI, for the week ended March 22, fresh produce sales were up 29.7 percent compared to the prior week.
It’s pretty much a universal belief that those people responsible for getting the food to where it is supposed to be have done a great job.
“During these unprecedented times, everyone is coming together to help produce move from where it is to where it needs to go,” said Joe Watson, vice president of membership and engagement for the Produce Marketing Association. “Matching distributors’ abilities with retailer needs, running at double the normal volume, rerouting product from foodservice to retail, consumer-direct solutions, new partnerships like small bakeries selling produce items and donations to food banks, this industry is doing it all to meet the consumer demand for produce.”
So, where has the growth come from? For the week ended March 22, IRI showed vegetables up 39.2 percent, adding $227 million versus the comparable week in 2019. Fruits gained 21.1 percent over the same period, translating into an additional $116 million.
“Our warehouse got wiped out after the first big wave of panic buying,” said Mike Kamphaus, president and chief executive officer of Peirone Produce. “While the huge sales took the headlines, the positive attitude of our retail customers and our vendor partners is really the most impressive back story. They employed lots of creative solutions to get product back into our supply chain and out to our customers in record time. I would also call out the efforts of my warehouse workforce, many of which worked double shifts, and our drivers who ran lots of extra routes to keep our retail customers in business. Forty years of being in business and I am still awed by the resilience and resourcefulness of our people.”
Sales increases extended across all fresh produce items. In absolute dollars, the biggest fresh produce winners for the week of March 22 were potatoes, which gained $61 million, or up 114.7 percent over the comparable week in 2019. Berries were second, with a gain of $28 million, or 23.5 percent. Onions closed out the top three, with gains of $27 million, up 68.6 percent. Others that gained big were lettuce, apples, tomatoes, tangerines, bananas, oranges and carrots.
Fresh fruit sales saw a slightly bigger uptick during the week of March 22 than the week prior. Berries generated 22 percent of fruit sales, yet grew 23.5 percent. Similarly, apples generated more than 15 percent of all fruit sales and grew 28 percent.
On the fresh vegetable side, shoppers are stocking up on items with longer shelf life, in particular. Beyond potatoes, other impressive growth categories were onions, carrots and squash.
Fresh Versus Frozen and Shelf-Stable
Consumers continued to split their produce dollar three ways during the week of March 22. “Fresh produce generates the bulk of total produce sales during regular times and it still does today,” said Jonna Parker, team lead of fresh for IRI. “The size of the pie is one of the reasons why fresh produce growth percentages are lower than that of frozen and shelf-stable. However, consumers remained in a stock-up mindset the week of March 22 and that drove high interest in frozen and shelf-stable fruit and vegetables. The share of total cross-store produce sales for shelf-stable, for instance, is up from 10 percent during 2019 to 19 percent during the week ending March 22, 2020.”
Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics, which helped supply the numbers, concluded with sentiments the entire country echoes: “It is important to remember that the produce sales surges at retail are only possible thanks to the heroic work of the entire grocery and produce supply chains, from farm to retailer.”
Here, here… and thank you.