Fresh Food

What Grocery Shoppers Gravitated Toward in November

Frozen beats fresh and more takeaways from the month
Photograph: Shutterstock

With COVID-19 cases on the rise nationwide and smaller-than-usual Thanksgiving gatherings on their calendars, grocery shoppers stocked up on center-store foods and frozen snacks in November, according to new data from IRI and the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA). Meanwhile, stores' dairy and bakery departments saw their slowest month since March.

Sales for all food-related items increased 9.3% year over year in November, outpacing October's year-over-year gain of 8.6%. Center-store sales gains (10.8%) beat those of fresh foods (7.8%) in November. Fresh meat outperformed other perimeter product categories, notably including deli prepared meats, meals and trays, all of which were down year over year. 

Big winners in the freezer aisle in November were processed poultry (chicken nuggets for remote-learning lunch, anyone?), seafood, frozen snacks and frozen beverages—all saw dollar sales gains north of 27% year over year.

Overall, frozen foods posted dollar gains of 17.4% year over year, with sales gains in most categories well ahead of volume gains, reflecting inflation and retailers' pricing power on in-demand items. Frozen meat volumes (not including frozen poultry or seafood) were down more than 10% in November, while dollar sales were up 21.5%.

Within the produce category, frozen handily beat fresh for the month: Frozen fruits and vegetables saw sales gains of 15.6.% in November; dollar growth for fresh produce was 8.2%. IRI notes that vegetable sales have outpaced fruit sales since March, although fruit recorded its best performance since July.

Climbing new COVID-19 cases and altered Thanksgiving plans affected not only the items that shoppers sought but also how they bought. IRI noted in its report: "Concern over COVID-19 is rising again after falling over the summer and early fall. ... This is driving people back to e-commerce for groceries and holiday shopping."

Items that didn't fare as well, continuing a trend seen for most of the year, included breakfast bakery items (bagels, doughnuts, pastries) that might be an easy bite on the way to offices that consumers are still—or once again—not going to. Within bakery, only croissants and tortillas/wraps/flatbreads eked out meager year-over-year gains in November.

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