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Overall supermarket deli sales were up 2.9% in both dollars and units in May, compared with a year ago.

Category update: Prepared foods drive deli sales growth in May

Fresh produce, meats also notch sales gains, while seafood, frozens struggle

Supermarket deli departments continued to deliver strong sales gains in May, driven by gains in deli prepared, deli entertaining, and cheese, according to the latest monthly reports from 210 Analytics and Circana.

Overall supermarket deli sales were up 2.9% in both dollars and units in May, compared with a year ago, as the largest subcategory, deli prepared, notched a 4.4% increase in dollar sales, to $3 billion. Deli entertaining, meanwhile, was up 6% in dollar sales, and deli cheese rose 1.6%.

“Deli-prepared food sales continued to grow with strength for both full meal solutions, such as pizza, and meal ingredients, such as prepared meats and appetizers,” said Anne-Marie Roerink, principal and founder of 210 Analytics, in the category report.

Deli-prepared meats — led by rotisserie chicken — were up 13.3% in dollars and 14.1% in units, and pizza sales were up 4.5% in dollars and 8.4% in units. Prepared entrées, appetizers, side dishes, soups/chili, combo meals, and desserts also posted positive dollar and unit sales growth in May, compared with a year ago.

The gains coincide with declines in restaurant visits, according to Circana research, which found that 27% of consumers reported in May that they were dining out less often this year.

In the bakery, dollar sales were basically flat in May, with a 0.1% decline, while unit sales ticked up 0.5%, compared with May of last year.

Fruit sales pace fresh produce gains 

Fresh produce sales also performed well in May, with dollar sales gains of 3.9% and unit sales up 3.3% vs. a year ago. Fresh fruit led the way with dollar sales up 5.9%, driven by double-digit gains for grapes, avocados, mandarins, cherries.

“Grapes continue to have an astounding year,” said Roerink, who noted that the commodity had strong sales in both dollars (up 29.2%) and pounds sold (up 15.7%).

Avocado sales soared 19.6%, despite a 3.2% decrease in pounds sold, reflecting inflation in that commodity.

Tomatoes, lettuce, onions, peppers, cucumbers, and carrots drove overall dollar sales gains of 1.8% for fresh vegetables vs. a year ago, while potatoes, broccoli, and mushrooms posted dollar sales declines. Salad kits inched up 0.8% in dollar sales, while unit sales declined 2.5%.

Fresh meat sales gains offset decline in processed meats

The meat category overall posted dollar sales gains of 3.3% in May, driven by a 5.2% increase in dollar sales for fresh meat. That included 7.2% growth in dollar sales of beef compared with a year ago. Chicken, turkey, lamb, and exotic meats were also up in both dollars and pounds sold, while fresh pork posted a 2.3% increase in dollar sales, but a 3% decline in pounds.

Overall pounds in the fresh meat category rose 1.5% in May, relative to last year’s results.

Processed meats, which account for a little less than a third of the total meat department sales, were down 0.6% in dollars and 1.9% in pounds. Items that outperformed the category included dinner and breakfast sausage, smoked ham, and processed chicken.

Frozen foods sales flat in May

Frozen foods sales were basically flat in May, with dollar sales up 0.2% and units up 0.9%, despite indications that trips to the department are increasing.

“After a decline in frozen food trips throughout 2023, the number of purchases is turning around,” said Roerink, who noted that department trips increased 0.8% in the past 13 weeks, including 1.2% in May. “With more feet in the frozen food aisle, the emphasis can now shift to optimizing the number of items in the cart to drive optimized sales per trip.”

Deflationary pressures appear to be pressuring dollar sales in the department, however, as frozen meals in particular saw dollar sales fall in excess of unit sales declines. Frozen desserts, fruits and vegetables, processed meat, and baked goods all had gains in both dollars and units, however, including a 5.7% gain in dollar sales of processed meats and a 9% gain in dollar sales of baked goods, compared with May of last year.

Seafood sales down in both fresh and frozen

With deflation in four of the top five fresh seafood species, and ongoing pressure on consumers to seek other, lower-priced proteins, sales of fresh seafood declined in both dollars and pounds in May. Dollar sales fell 3.1%, to $820 million, while pounds were down 1.7%.

Frozen seafood followed a similar pattern, with dollar sales down 4.6% and pounds down 0.9%.

“May counts several holidays, including Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, but these did not bring much relief to the ongoing woes in the seafood sector,” said Roerink.

Shelf-stable seafood, the smallest sector of the overall seafood category, performed better than fresh and frozen, with dollar sales up 2.2% and pounds up 4.5%.

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