by Greg Ferrara / president and CEO, NGA
Consumers were making more healthful food choices in greater numbers before the COVID-19 pandemic, which further boosted interest in better nutrition.
As the nation continues to grapple with new variants in a pandemic that’s lingering longer than most expectations, the idea of eating better to buttress one’s health remains a strong trend in grocery.
Independent community grocers are well positioned to meet public demand for healthier foods. Close relationships with local growers allow hometown retailers to secure ample quantities of organic and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.
NGA recently partnered with The Packer on a market survey, “Winning With Fresh,” the results of which indicate that opportunities abound for independent grocers. Of note, The Packer will be leading an educational session on produce at the upcoming NGA Show, Feb. 27-March 1 in Las Vegas.
Grocers are seeing interest in organic fruits and vegetables continue to grow. In fact, about 49 percent of independent community grocers surveyed expect that consumer interest in organic fresh produce will increase this year and into 2023.
Similarly, independent retailers predict rising demand for pesticide-free produce (40 percent), eco-friendly produce packaging (47 percent) and bulk fresh produce (42 percent), continuing the direction these areas took since the outset of the pandemic.
Additionally, 38 percent of those independent grocers surveyed expect to need more overall shelf space for fresh produce in the coming months.
However, this demand will come at a cost as Americans face record inflation amid supply chain uncertainty and a historic labor shortage.
A large majority of independent grocers expect the cost of fresh produce for the consumer to slightly (53 percent) or significantly (19 percent) increase in the year ahead. Produce suppliers increased their rates for 64 percent of independent grocers responding to the survey; 60 percent think this trend will continue.
Still, independent grocers are largely expressing confidence in the future of fresh produce sales, with nearly half “more hopeful” about the produce supply chain over the next five years.
To be sure, fresh produce has been a bright spot for independent community grocers, who report that produce has been easier for them to keep in stock during the pandemic than goods in other categories, such as shelf-stable foods and non-food products.
As far as making sure those who need it most are fed, independent grocers are leading the charge with nutrition incentive programs designed to stimulate the sale of fresh produce.
Nearly two-thirds of independent grocers surveyed said they’ve implemented the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or other incentive programs in their stores, especially important for food-insecure consumers in markets where the only other source of fresh produce may be many miles away.
So count on the nation’s independent grocers to be at the forefront of their communities’ efforts to stay healthy amid the ongoing public health crisis.
Masks and vaccines are excellent precautions against the dangers of the here and now. But maintaining good health should be a lifelong goal and leveraging the resources of independent community grocers to help achieve it is a wise practice for the long term.