“Produce to me is the harbinger of every trend. It’s an early indicator of a new direction in consumer trends throughout the store,” asserts Parker, who points to salads and leafy greens making sales history.

“Salads and leafy greens have the highest department share for dollar sales that we’ve ever seen,” she notes. “At 12.7% for the 52-week period this year we are extremely high—higher than we’ve ever seen, and I think that’s a result of the consumer’s desire for convenience and health.” Parker adds that dollar sales of salad kits are up 15.3% year over year and nearly 40% compared with the same time period three years ago.

As consumers have picked up a cooking skill or two during the pandemic, IRI also sees that previously overlooked vegetables, including cruciferous varieties such as cauliflower and broccoli (sales up 23.1% versus three years ago), have taken hold, along with eggplant and fresh herbs.

“People learned how to cook these vegetables, and now they’re a part of their regular diet. It’s been a tremendous boost for the produce industry,” Parker says. “Now it’s up to us to keep those people.”

In terms of fruit, overall dollar sales are up in the last year, though some categories are faring better than others. Berries are up 12.2% from one year ago and almost 30% versus three years ago, while kiwi sales are up 16.1% versus a year ago and nearly 40% compared with three years ago. Melons are also strong performers, with sales up 13.5% versus a year ago.

“What the pandemic taught us about fruit is there are mainstays in the American diet, like apples and bananas, which kind of ride the wave but don’t generate massive increases in purchase frequency—they are staples,” Parker noted. “But what is interesting in fruit are berries, mandarins, avocados, pineapples and cut mango, because those point to snacking, freshness and versatility. Those types of fruit are gaining, and they’re gaining a lot, and I think those gains point to consumers expanding into things like making smoothies, putting fruit in salads, and making these fruits part of their diets in new ways.”