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Shoppers Focused On Produce Deals, Buying Less In June

independent grocers June 2023 produce shopper preferences

After several months of flat and lower prices, fresh produce experienced a jump in year-on-year inflation in June, according to Circana, 210 Analytics and the International Fresh Produce Association

Fresh fruit prices increased 6.8 percent in comparison to June 2022. Vegetable inflation averaged 2.7 percent in June, which was down from the 52-week levels that averaged 6.7 percent. 

“Both fruit and vegetables performed well in May which helped to move the 52-week numbers within 2 percentage points of year-ago levels,” said Joe Watson, IFPA’s VP of retail, foodservice and wholesale. 

“This is significantly better than the total food and beverage performance, as well as significantly better than fruit and vegetable counterparts in frozen and canned.” 

Weekly fresh produce sales averaged around $1.6 billion, with two bumps for the holiday weeks captured as the first (Memorial Day) and final (July Fourth) of the period.

“Summer is the strong season for fresh produce, as locally-grown and seasonal items come into the marketplace at a much greater,” said Jonna Parker, team lead fresh for Circana. 

“Our survey work shows that seasonal and local are the top two claims for prompting an unplanned purchase. Eye-catching displays and storytelling can help elevate the fresh produce performance.”

While fresh produce prices experienced modest inflation in June, Watson noted that “frozen and shelf-stable fruit and vegetable prices increased significantly.”

“In turn, unit sales for frozen and shelf-stable fruit and vegetables were down substantially more than those of fresh produce,” he said. “While dropping back in the red is painful, fresh is performing far better than its counterparts and the decline is much more a reflection of the tremendous economic pressure overall.” 

Fresh produce dollars vs. volume

“April was our highpoint, when pounds briefly popped into positive growth territory. But unfortunately, the second quarter averaged out at [a drop of] 1.2 percent year over year,” Watson said. 

As such, fresh produce pound sales have been trailing behind year ago levels since April 2021. 

In June, pound sales trailed year-ago levels by 3.4 percent, though units were down much less, at 0.6 percent – signaling that shoppers are leveraging the amount they buy as a way to balance their spending.

While in 2022, fruit outperformed vegetables, the reverse is happening in the past few months. In June, vegetables had the better dollar and volume performance, with pounds within one percentage point of the 2022 levels. 

“Berries’ performance continued to be outstanding,” Watson said. 

“The five June weeks generated nearly $1 billion in berries alone. But there is another success story in seasonal powerhouse cherries that are the star of front entry displays of many stores at the moment. 

“Last month, I predicted that cherries would move into the top five in June. And, sure enough, here they are in the No. 4 slot. Cherry sales increased 71.9 percent over year-ago levels in pounds and 40.3 percent in dollars. This shows that consumers’ appetite for seasonal favorites is still strong.”

Other items with increased volume sales were avocados and mandarins, while pineapples kept pound sales flat year over year.  

Vegetables sales 

“The dollar and pound performance among the top 10 vegetable sellers was all over the board,” Parker said. 

“Five items increased pound sales – tomatoes, onions, peppers, cucumbers and corn. With the help of inflation, six out of the 10 top vegetable sellers grew dollar sales, led by potatoes, broccoli and lettuce. 

Corn was the newcomer to the top 10 this month, a reflection of seasonal sales and more favorable pricing than that seen last summer. 

Absolute dollar gains highlighted

Cherries dethroned berries from the top spot in absolute dollar growth when compared to last year. 

In all, fruit added $68 million year over year and vegetables $52 million, which means cherries and berries outperformed the total that was pulled down by commodities that lost ground. 

The top three performers all had robust pound gains, whereas others gained on inflation.

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