Labor Day boosted virtually all departments back into double-digit gains over year ago, particularly with the holiday weekend falling a week later than it did in 2019. For the week of September 6th, fresh fruit and vegetable sales increased 11.6% over 2019 — actually surpassing growth in shelf-stable fruits and vegetables. Year-to-date through September 6, fresh produce department sales are up 11.2% over the same time period in 2019.
- Fresh produce increased +11.6% over the comparable week in 2019.
- Frozen, +17.5%
- Shelf-stable, +7.2%
Source: IRI, Total US, MULO, 1 week % dollar growth vs. year ago
Fresh produce generated $1.32 billion in sales the week ending September 6th — an additional $137 million in fresh produce sales over the prior year. While a strong result, this is actually below the pandemic average for additional dollars, at $181 million per week though higher than the June, July and August averages. Vegetables grew 12.6% versus year ago and fruit had a very strong week, up 10.8% during the week of September 6.
Fresh produce commanded an 81.3% share of total fruit and vegetable sales across all three temperature zones during the week ending September 6 — unchanged versus the week prior but still down from 2019’s 84% average.
Fresh produce dollars versus volume
One of the bigger surprises this week came in the form of volume sales that exceeded dollar sales due to a very strong performance on the fruit side. The week of September 6th experienced a 13.3% volume increase, up from just 1% the week prior. “We have not seen volume track ahead of dollar gains since the middle of May,” said Jonna Parker, Team Lead Fresh with IRI. “It looks like grocery retailers went in with very sharp prices for Labor Day to close out the summer season with a bang. Volume sales were at their highest level since the week of June 21, which was Father’s Day.”
The strong produce volume performance was driven by fruit, that saw a 14.4% increase in volume versus the same week year ago — up from -1.2% the week prior. Vegetables had strong, double-digit volume gains as well, but they tracked slightly below dollar gains.
The pandemic top 10 in absolute dollar gains
A look back at the pandemic weeks between March 15 and September 6 shows some astounding gains during the 26-week period for both vegetables and fruit. “The produce pandemic powerhouses start with berries, potatoes and lettuce,” said Watson. “Berries and lettuce are massive categories that still averaged double digit growth over the 26-week period. Some real surprises are much smaller categories that punched well above their weight with very high weekly gains, including oranges and mushrooms.”
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