CHICAGO - Sales of fresh foods in supermarkets show no sign of wilting, and have increased over the past year despite a number of foodborne illness outbreaks attributed to perishables.
Statistics released during a webinar hosted by Information Resources Inc., Chicago, and FreshLook Marketing Group, Hoffman Estates, Ill., emphasized the importance of perishables departments for retailers.
Produce and seafood were the top growth categories, with sales up 6.5% and 8.4%, respectively, over the same period a year before. Indeed, produce has surpassed fresh meat as the top-selling department and that growth trend is solid, said Mark Degner, FreshLook's president and chief executive officer, whose firm worked with IRI's Census Grocery Retail in compiling the data. Specifically, fresh-cut produce sales grew 8%, with cut fruit experiencing 12% growth and cut vegetables 5%.
Other fresh categories also saw gains, but at lower rates: Meat sales grew 1.3%; prepared deli was up 6.3%; bakery increased 1.3%; deli meats were relatively flat with 0.1% growth; and deli cheese sales fell 2.5%.
Degner said categories like produce, meat and bakery currently comprise about 50% of the market basket for the typical shopper, with plenty of room for a greater share.
"The growth of natural and organics as we look over the course of time is very important to folks as well as consumer wellness and family health," he said.
However, increases in sales of fresh foods does not come without risk. For example, spinach sales have plummeted since last month's nationwide outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7. In the four weeks ending Oct. 8, spinach sales were just over $1.6 million, compared to nearly $8.5 million during the same four-week period in 2005, according to IRI. Sales of fresh and packaged greens, which do not include lettuce, were down $633,698 over last year during the same four-week period.
"Spinach sales are off nearly $7 million vs. a year ago, so not only do we have the consumer responding, we have the retailer responding as well, making sure the spinach is off the shelves," Degner told SN.