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Fresh Produce Sales Up 33.9% Amid Growing Number of COVID-19 Cases

Both vegetables and fruits see double-digit gains for the week ending March 15, 2020
Walmart Potatoes
Photograph by WGB Staff

Retail sales are surging as shoppers stock up on staples and fresh foods in the wake of growing coronavirus cases and tightening social-distancing measures. 210 Analytics analyzed the sales results, provided by IRI. Total store sales increased 62.5% for the week ending March 15, with edibles increasing 77.8%. At the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in the U.S., shoppers stocked up on paper goods, hand sanitizers and cleaning supplies.

For the week of March 15, however, shoppers were in the mindset to stock up on food. Boosted by an increase of 76.9% in meat, the total perimeter increased 44.9%, whereas total produce sales increased by more than one-third. Vegetables were up nearly 41% over 2019 and added $242.2 million vs. the comparable week in 2019. And fruits gained 27% over the week of March 15, which translated into an additional $150.2 million.


Produce Sales Amid COVID-19

Source: IRI, total U.S. multioutlet


According to Jonna Parker, principal of IRI’s Fresh Center of Excellence, the sales increases are near universal across all fresh produce, both fixed- and random-weight. “We’re seeing big gains for nearly all fresh fruits and vegetables with incredible acceleration for items such as potatoes, yams, oranges and mandarins,” said Parker. “Additionally, shoppers’ stock-up mindset is driving a huge surge in demand for frozen and shelf-stable fruits and vegetables that have a longer shelf life.”

While fresh produce gained nearly 34%, IRI found that sales for frozen fruits and vegetables were up more than 100%, and shelf-stable vegetables were up more than 200%, for the week ending March 15.


Sales Increase per Category

Source: IRI, total U.S. multioutlet, week ending March 15, 2020


In absolute dollars, the biggest produce winners for the week of March 15 were potatoes, which gained $44.2 million, up 71.6%. Lettuce gained $42.8 million and was up 29.1%. The top five was closed out by berries (up $37.4 million, or 31.8%), apples (up $29.4 million, or 36.9%) and tomatoes (up $27.6 million, or 43.2%).

Fresh Fruit 

While stocking fridges and freezers are a big part of the sales surge, home cooking and snacking became much more prevalent as well. The week of March 15 saw more school and office closures, increased working from home and some cities/states started mandating restaurant seating to be closed. Sales surges in apples, berries, oranges and more are without a doubt related to the desire to eat healthful snacks to build the immune system.

On the fruit side, apples generated more than 15% of all fruit sales and grew 36.9%, and oranges generated more than 5% of fruit sales and increased 60.9%, with another 50.2% increase for tangelos.


Weekly Sales of Fresh Fruit

Source: IRI, total U.S. multioutlet, week ending March 15, 2020


Fresh Vegetables

On the fresh vegetable side, shoppers are stocking up on items with a longer shelf life, in particular. One of the most impressive categories were potatoes. Potatoes are the second-largest vegetable seller with the highest growth, at 71.6%. The same is true for onions, which generated more than $53 million for the week of March 15 and gained 59.2%.


Weekly Sales of Fresh Vegetables

Source: IRI, total U.S. multioutlet, week ending March 15, 2020


It is important to remember that these kinds of sales surges are only possible thanks to the heroic work of the entire produce supply chain, from farm to retailer. As coronavirus-related measures continued to sharpen during the subsequent week, it is highly likely we’ll continue to see produce sales surge.

Anne-Marie Roerink is principal of 210 Analytics, which specializes in research for the food retailing industry and authors studies in meat, produce, bakery, deli, frozen, confectionery, snacks and retail operations. She can be reached at aroerink@210analytics.com.

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