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By Matt Kulseth

Produce company analyzes demand trends around the holidays

Demand for traditional produce items always spikes during the winter holidays. It’s not uncommon to see potatoes (regular and sweet varieties), parsnips, rutabagas, celery, beans, tangerines, and greens all have higher than average sales before both Thanksgiving and Christmas. But we’re also anticipating a few new trends this year.

The rise of Brussels sprouts
While they used to be the go-to example of foods picky children won’t touch, Brussels sprouts have enjoyed significant growth over the last few years. It’s a trend that doesn’t show signs of slowing. This little vegetable is actually quite versatile and can be prepared in a myriad of ways for the holidays—roasted with bacon, shaved to create a slaw, or lightly sautéed—to name just a few.

Inclusion of uniquely colored veggies
Another trend consumers are gravitating toward is the use of uniquely colored veggies. Using purple carrots or orange cauliflower can add a certain visual appeal. Many consumers looking to set a holiday dish apart have started using distinctively colored produce.

Overall increase in vegetables
Beyond this holiday season, we expect the vegetable category will continue to grow and become more in demand than ever. As consumers continue to focus on health and wellbeing, plan for vegetables to become an even larger focus.

How we came to these predictions
We use a combination of many credible data feeds and analytics to help determine the overall market’s supply and demand. Some retailers also share point of sale (POS) data with us, which means we can more precisely pinpoint their unique customer demand. Combining these disparate datasets helps us accurately see trends, plan for demand, alleviate shorts as needed, and prevent unnecessary holiday shrinkage.

Why holiday produce planning matters so much
In the weeks leading up to a holiday, many produce distribution centers run at maximum capacity to meet the increased demands. Retailers need to know they won’t be faced with overstocks of one item or out of stocks for another. Proactive planning helps eliminate some of this uncertainty. In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, we planned for increased demand in holiday-specific produce. Cranberries, for example, see a 1,729 percent increase in pounds sold while sweet potatoes/yams experience a 359 percent increase and green beans sell 195 percent more.

What if your holiday planning goes awry?
After one company’s particularly rough winter holiday season—one filled with supply issues—we helped implement a direct to store watermelon program for Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day in a proactive move to avoid the problems they had the previous winter. The program relieved their strained distribution centers, allowed for fresher product in stores, and saved the customer from paying significant warehouse fees.

There are always potential complications when supplying fresh produce—especially with peak holiday demands. It’s vital to have a robust network of growers and logistics providers to ensure continuity of supply if something should disrupt your original plan.

If you’re unable to resolve a reoccurring problem during the peak season, be sure to review exactly what went wrong so you can work on a new solution for the future. And remember, planning for fresh produce is almost as cyclical as growing fresh produce—it never stops. Simply maintaining an ongoing cycle of “plan, review, and plan again” is a huge step in the right direction. After all, continual improvement creates consistency in both supply and execution.

Author: Matt Kulseth
Business Analyst, Category Insights Team for Robinson Fresh

Liz Erickson Monson
Robinson Fresh
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