Fresh Food

The Fresh Perimeter Has Been Turned on Its Head

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The fresh perimeter has been turned on its head. In the last 52 weeks ending Aug. 9, 2020, sales of deli mainstays like salads, soup and pizza are down vs. a year ago, but sales of crab, lobster, prepared pasta side dishes and potato wedges are through the roof. While these sales trends may seem all over the map, when viewed through the lens of a global pandemic, they make perfect sense.

“It’s impossible to look at 2020 and say the pandemic didn’t change everything,” says Jonna Parker, principal with IRI’s Fresh Center of Excellence. “Sales of meat, seafood and cheese all increased in demand and consumer experimentation.”

In the last 24 weeks, these categories saw unprecedented double-digit growth, leading to elevated sales for the 52 weeks ending Aug. 9, on which this year’s annual WGB Fresh Food Handbook with data, analytics and insights from IRI, is based. (Proceeding data and charts reflect IRI data for those 52 weeks, unless otherwise stated.)

While Parker sees the perimeter trends of the past five years—convenience, health and wellness, and healthy indulgence—continuing in some respects, what consumers crave today has changed. “There are new consumers across the perimeter (except in some areas of hot/ready-to-eat prepared foods) with different wants and needs for products,” she says. “The world is not going back to life pre-pandemic for a while.”

And what of innovation in the age of COVID? Last year’s Fresh Food Handbook identified innovation as the key to the perimeter’s success. “Since March, we haven’t seen innovation as we would classically define it,” says Parker. “CPG was definitely challenged to innovate earlier in the pandemic, as retailers focused on putting products on shelves and the supply side focused on the tried-and-true and producing what was most in demand.”

But that doesn’t mean perimeter innovation in terms of developing creative solutions to meet the changing needs of consumers isn’t alive and well.

“The concept and practice of innovation at the cadence we lived with for so many decades has been very relevant in the pandemic,” notes Parker. From deli prepared foods’ swift shift to grab-and-go to the meat department offering larger portions to feed more family members eating at home to the in-store bakery focusing on items for every day consumption, “innovation born of the moment” has prevailed throughout the pandemic, she adds.

As the majority of consumers continue to work from home and children attend school virtually, demand for fresh food to fuel hungry households remains strong. Chicago-based IRI finds total dollar sales in the fresh perimeter of both random- and fixed-weight products have reached more than $292 billion, with meat leading the pack at $78.5 billion in total dollar sales.

This year’s Fresh Food Handbook also marks the debut of IRI’s Syndicated Integrated Fresh database, which combines random- and fixed-weight products sold at the majority of retailers, as such the numbers and trends published here are not directly comparable to previous annual reports.

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