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How To Leverage Eating Trends To Drive Produce Sales


by Jim Dudlicek / Director, NGA Communications and External Affairs

Even before COVID made good general health and resistance to illness more important, consumers have been paying more attention to the wellness benefits derived from the foods they eat. Few foods are as synonymous with health as fresh produce, making fruits and vegetables essential for good nutrition.

To explore the latest trends in fresh produce and how grocery retailers can leverage consumers’ desire to be healthy to grow basket rings, the National Grocers Association co-hosted a recent webinar with the United Fresh Produce Association.

Speakers were Miriam Wolk, VP of member services at United Fresh; Mike Roberts, director of produce operations for Arkansas-based Harps Food Stores; Jennifer Williams, owner of Wyland’s Market in Ohio; and Greg Kurkjian, executive VP of sales, marketing and procurement at The Castellini Co., one of the largest fresh produce distributors in the United States.

Here are some key takeaways from the discussion:

Healthy, wealthy and wise. Produce sales are up more than 11 percent in dollars and 8.6 percent in units for 2020 over 2019, according to a Nielsen report Wolk presented, which noted: “Despite the pandemic, produce still managed to drive store trips, proving that consumers aren’t willing to subsist on frozen, canned and center store items alone. Healthy eating is more important than ever.” Fruit sales growth leaders include cherries, citrus, berries and watermelon; vegetable sales growth leaders include tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers and mushrooms.

Consumer, heal thyself. A significant majority (70 percent) of consumers believe certain foods can boost their immunity to COVID-19 and other viruses. Four out of five ingredients that consumers say can boost their immunity are produce: citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, superfruits and broccoli. So, grocers would do well to promote and educate on immune-boosting properties of fresh produce, including vitamins A, B6, C and E, iron and zinc.

It takes a village. Consumers are concerned for their children’s health as well; nearly a third of consumers say their child’s nutrition improved during the pandemic, and a quarter of families sought out foods that boost their child’s immune system. So, kid-centric messaging is sure to resonate. In addition to posting targeted nutrition information online, retailers can partner with growers on youth-focused promotions like kids clubs and in-store produce giveaways.

Be the solution. “Get people closer to dinner,” Williams counseled. In the produce section, that means things like pre-cut veggies for recipes and even pre-husked corn to save folks time in the kitchen (a quarter of consumers report being “sick and tired” of having to cook more). Roberts says Harps promotes healthy recipes on social media to stimulate consumers’ kitchen curiosity; despite “meal fatigue,” two-thirds of consumers are cooking more at home, nearly half are looking for new recipes to try and more than 70 percent plan on continuing to cook more after the pandemic ends.

You’re in this together. The retailers on the panel recommended reaching out to their vendor partners for guidance on effective marketing and merchandising. Kurkjian indicated that his community is more than ready to assist: “Vendors have more information than their retailers ask for.”

To view this complete webinar, along with others in the series, visit nga.sclivelearningcenter.com/MVSite/default.aspx.

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