March 29 marks the end of the third week of tightening social distancing measures caused by the rapid spread of the coronavirus. As of early April, 47 states have issued some type of executive order governing social and business activities, with tremendous impact on grocery and produce sales. While the foodservice side has been decimated, sales at retail started surging come the second week of March. 210 Analytics, IRI and PMA partnered up to understand the effect for produce in dollars and volume throughout the pandemic.
During the week of March 29, produce sales continued to show highly elevated levels regardless of where they were sold in the store, despite many chains running limited opening hours:
- Fresh produce increased 8.1% over the comparable week in 2019.
- Frozen, +41.6%
- Shelf-stable, +51.0%
Source: IRI, Total US, MULO, week ending March 29, 2020
The March dollar growth trend line for fresh fruit shows very strong results for the week endings March 15 and March 22 and a return to more moderate growth levels the week of March 29, at +1.5%, which translated into an additional $9 million in sales. Sales growth patterns for fresh vegetables were similar, but higher. For the week ending March 29, IRI showed vegetables up 15.2% —adding $88 million versus the comparable week in 2019. It is important to point out that stockouts and purchase limits may have affected reported gains. Additionally, distributors are finding creative ways of going consumer-direct. These sales are not reflected in these numbers.
At the onset of coronavirus in the U.S., dollar and volume sales were relatively close together for total produce, at +0.4% for dollars and +1.3% in volume. However, particularly the week ending March 22, volume sales far exceeded dollar sales, creating a nine-point gap, which would indicate deflation setting in at retail for some areas.
The gap was widest for vegetables, particularly the latest two weeks. For the week ending March 29, volume sales gains for vegetables were more than 10 points higher than dollar growth.
For the third week in a row, potatoes were the growth leader in absolute dollars, selling $32 million more than in the comparable week in 2019, or +65.1%. Others that gained big in dollars were onions, tomatoes and oranges. Jonna Parker, Team Lead, Fresh for IRI shares: “Looking at the 10 fruits and vegetables that added the most new dollars in the week of March 29, shows significantly higher volume than dollar growth for items such as onions, carrots and lemons. This is likely the direct influence of the decline in foodservice demand.”
Fresh fruit sales growth dropped back down to single digits, at +1.5%. Oranges saw the biggest gain in absolute dollars, up $9.8 million over the week of March 29 over the comparable week in 2019, or +42.7%. Other big contributors in dollars and percentage were avocados (+$7.5 million or 17.8%) and lemons (+$4.4 million or 32.7%). Berries, apples and bananas remain the largest categories.
On the fresh vegetable side, potatoes continued to have extremely impressive growth, up 65.1%. Other impressive growth categories were onions, carrots and mushrooms.
Fresh Versus Frozen and Shelf-Stable
Consumers continued to split their produce dollar three ways during the week of March 29. Frozen and canned vegetables had ongoing strong growth during the last week of March.
“With the stocking up on canned and frozen produce slowing down this week, the share of dollars going to fresh dollars was significantly higher than we’ve seen in recent weeks,” said Parker. “However, at 76%, the fresh produce share is still significantly lower than its typical share, with continued above-average strength for frozen fruits and vegetables.”