Fresh Food

Sweet Start to Summer for Fruit Sales

Fresh fruit beats May 2020 and May 2019 dollar sales
Fresh fruit department
Photograph: Shutterstock

Fresh fruit was a star at retail in May, dollar-wise, as sales of fresh fruits topped even the tough-to-beat year-ago period for a second consecutive month, according to IRI Integrated Fresh data.

Fresh fruit dollar sales were up 0.7% last month vs. May 2020 after climbing 1.5% year-over-year in April. Bigger at-home gatherings for holidays and other special events (notably in May, graduations), as well as an increasingly inflationary price environment, are contributing to boosted dollar sales of fresh fruit.

"While eating out is ramping up, the positive Memorial Day results may at the same time point to a summer with strong backyard barbecue sales as shoppers are returning to larger get-togethers and celebrations," Joe Watson, VP of membership and engagement for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), said in a report from IRI and 210 Analytics. That's not for nothing, as IRI's monthly shopper survey found 40% of respondents saying they had dined indoors at a restaurant in the past month and 14% had eaten outdoors. A healthy appetite for at-home gatherings with family and friendsplus picnics, family reunions and the like—and the fuller baskets they result in could help offset sales lost to restaurants this summer.

Dollar sales of fresh vegetables were down in May vs. the year-ago period, but not by as much (8.6%) as in April (8.8%). Fresh produce overall saw dollar sales decline 3.7% in May year over year, but sales were up 12.5% against those from May 2019.

While fresh produce saw price deflation early in the pandemic, that changed in the third quarter of 2020, 210 Analytics President Anne-Marie Roerink noted in the report. Last month, fresh fruit prices were up 12.3% vs. a year ago, according to IRI data; fresh produce prices overall were up 8% vs. a year ago. Moreover, "the gap between dollars and volume is growing wider as inflationary pressure is rising in recent months," Roerink said. By volume, fresh produce sales were down 11.6% year over year in May, though as with dollar sales, produce volumes too were up vs. two years ago.

Within the top-performing fresh-fruit category, berries and mandarin oranges were May's top performers vs. both one and two years ago, though pineapples, melons and apples also tracked higher for both periods. And while fresh vegetables—most notably, potatoes, onions and mushrooms—by and large saw dollar sales slide vs. a year ago, there were exceptions: Packaged salads and cucumbers both outperformed May 2020 and May 2019 sales. 

Across the store perimeter, all categories (meat, produce, refrigerated, deli, bakery and seafood) saw May dollar sales beat their May 2019 pre-pandemic baseline. Most categories, not unexpectedly, were down vs. the pandemic sales surges of one year ago, although deli—which took a big hit early in the pandemic as offices and schools closed their doors—beat its May 2020 and May 2019 performances. 

Heading deeper into the summer celebration season and with more Americans returning to offices, "it is more important than ever for retailers to actively promote their value-added and deli-prepared offerings as time-saving and convenient solutions," Roerink concluded.

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