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Fresh Produce Sales Climb in Q3 Behind Price and Volume Gains

Romaine scare slows lettuce category, but value-added veggies grow
Photograph: Shutterstock

Produce dollar sales increased 2.7% in the third quarter, driven by gains in both fruits and vegetables, according to the United Fresh Produce Association FreshFacts on Retail report, which measured whole and fresh-cut produce price and sales trends from July to September.

Produce accounted for 34% of total fresh sales in the quarter, second to the meat department, according to the report, which was prepared in partnership with market research firm Nielsen.

While higher prices resulted in decreased sales volume for a number of fruit and vegetable products, the report found that consumers still seek out produce, regardless of the price, with blueberries, strawberries, prepackaged salads and mushrooms gaining volume despite price increases. For instance, with an increased average price of $3.80, dollar sales of blueberries still grew by 10%.

Lettuce was the only top vegetable category to decline in dollars and pounds, signaling a lingering impact of the romaine recall due to the E. coli outbreak earlier this year. 

The report also found that value-added vegetables grew at a faster rate than value-added fruit, with broccoli and celery displaying the largest growth. Consumers are increasingly seeking out produce with marketing claims such as local, hothouse-grown and GMO-free, as well as organic, which saw a 10% rise of dollar sales compared with the year prior.

“Marketing claims are frequently discussed in United Fresh’s Produce Marketing and Merchandising Council meetings,” said Mary Coppola, senior director of marketing and communications for Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh. “To gain insight into consumer awareness of these claims is critical in choosing how to speak to consumers about your products.”

The FreshFacts on Retail Q3 2018 report was developed with input from Nielsen’s Total Food View, which provides coverage of fresh data in 92,000 U.S. stores in the food and drug channels and mass, dollar, club and military retailers, as well as the United Fresh Retail-Foodservice Board, which focuses on the top needs and concerns for retail supermarkets and foodservice operators.

The report is available for free to United Fresh members and a $50 fee for nonmembers. To download the full report, click here.

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