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Strong sales for deli-prepared foods, entertaining in February .png Getty Images

Category update: Strong sales for deli-prepared foods, entertaining in February

Fresh meat, frozen seafood also had a strong performance amid easing inflationary pressures

The deli-prepared foods and deli entertaining categories performed well in February, reflecting consumers’ increasing acceptance of retail foodservice as an alternative to restaurants, according to research from 210 Analytics and Circana.

February deli-prepared foods sales were up 4.1% in units and 3.6% in dollars vs. a year ago, while sales of deli entertaining items were up 3% in units and 4.4% in dollars.

Overall deli department sales were up 1.7% in dollars and 2.4% in units, with deli meat being the only subcategory in negative sales territory.

“Deli meat had a tough 2023, and pound declines continued in February 2024,” said Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics and author of the report.

Grab-and-go deli meat sales were flat for the month, while pound sales at the service counter decreased 4.7%.

Other retail departments, including meat, frozen seafood, and fresh produce, had a positive sales month in February, as inflationary pressures on consumers continued to ease, helping drive gains in unit volumes.

The data reflect Circana’s expansion of its multi-outlet (MULO) universe to include sales from additional ecommerce, grocery, club, direct-to-consumer, and other channels. Historic sales have been updated to represent this new universe, dubbed MULO+.

Frozen fruits, processed meats stand out

The freezer case continued to be a mixed bag in February. Frozen fruits had a particularly strong month, with dollar sales up 5.9% and unit sales up 7.2%, compared with results from a year ago. Plain vegetables, by contrast, saw dollar sales drop 4% and unit sales decline 3.6%.

Processed meats were another solid performer, with dollar sales up 2.6% in February, vs. a year ago, and unit sales up 6%. Frozen meals, however, were down in both dollars and units.

Among frozen desserts, novelty items inched up 1.4% in dollars and 1.6% in units, although desserts overall saw unit sales decline 0.4% for the month, with a 0.9% gain in dollar sales.

Frozen seafood also outperformed fresh seafood, according to the 210 Analytics/Circana report on the seafood category. Although dollar sales of frozen seafood were down 2.5% in February, compared with a year ago, sales volume in terms of pounds rose 5.9%.

“Frozen seafood is making a long-awaited comeback,” said Roerink.

Fresh seafood, meanwhile, saw dollar sales decrease 8.8% and pounds decrease 8.7% compared with a year ago. The decrease was mostly driven by fresh shellfish, which went up against a strong first quarter last year, Roerink said.

Fresh meat posts sales gains

Sales of meat products overall were up slightly in February, including a 1.7% gain in dollar sales vs. a year ago and a 0.6% increase in pounds. The gains were driven by fresh meat in particular, which saw dollar sales rise 3.6% and pounds increase 1.2%.

Processed meat, meanwhile, experienced a dollar sales decline of 2.5%, driven in part by a 5% decline in packaged lunch meat, which is the largest subcategory. Pound sales of processed meat were down 0.8% for the month, compared with a year ago.

Among fresh meats, chicken, pork, turkey, lamb, and exotic (which includes bison) were all up in terms of pounds sold. Fresh beef, which has experienced lingering inflationary pressure, saw pound sales decline 0.4% in February, although dollar sales were up 6%. Veal sales fell significantly, with dollar sales down 17.3% and pounds slipping 18.1%.

Sales of plant-based meat alternatives continued to decline, with dollar sales down 8% in February vs. a year ago, and unit sales down 9.7%.

Fresh fruit sales boost produce category

Produce department sales, driven by a strong performance in fresh fruit, were up 2.2% in dollars and 0.6% in units for the month of February, compared with a year ago. That included dollar gains of 4% in fresh fruit and 0.7% in fresh vegetables. Unit sales were up 0.2% in fresh fruit and 1.1% in fresh vegetables.

Dollar sales were up in each of the top 10 fresh fruit subcategories except apples, which saw a 2.6% decline. Pound sales of apples, however, were up 10.9%.

Berries, mandarins, and pineapples were among the fresh fruits that posted the largest February gains in both dollars and units vs. a year ago.

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