For the most part, fresh produce has been immune to inflation, which has helped keep sales consistent for much of 2023, according to data from NIQ.
Supply chain issues also are beginning to subside, and combined with the summer season, including family picnic-type holidays, fresh produce should be in store for a strong finish over the final few months of the year. In terms of year-over-year performance, however, the fresh produce category has been predominantly flat, NIQ found, with fruit showing a 0.5% increase in unit sales compared to 2022 and vegetables actually down 0.7%.
“Consumers are looking at produce and some of the other perimeter areas like, ‘Oooh, I can get this and not spend as much for it,” said Sally Lyons Wyatt,
executive VP and practice leader at Circana. “We are also seeing items in the pantry decreasing. They want to get things that they’re going to either eat that day or that week.”
Apples carried fresh produce in 2022, and so far this year another fruit has proved stellar: avocados. In fact, avocados led all of the major fresh produce categories with a 4.8% unit sales increase year-over-year compared to 2022, according to NIQ.
Vegetables like onions and tomatoes have also been strong contributors. Onions experienced a 2% unit sales increase, while tomatoes carried a 1.4% surge year-over-year. Bananas and grapes, other stalwarts for fresh produce in 2022, have been two more positive performers. On the flip side, berries and apples have been sluggish when looking at unit sales in 2023.
Strawberries were down more than any other major fresh category, a 5% drop year-over-year, while apples, which were strong sellers in 2022, were down 4.2% year-over-year.
After a positive surge in April, fresh produce lost ground in May in terms of unit volume, according to a market report from Circana, 210 Analytics, and the International Fresh Produce Association. Fresh-produce pound sales fell 0.8% compared to May 2022. In total, fresh produce unit sales were down 0.3% in May 2023 year-over-year with fruit and vegetables dropping 0.1% and 0.3%, respectively.
“April pounds popped into positive growth territory, but unfortunately we gave back a little ground in May,” said Joe Watson, vice president of Retail, Foodservice, and Wholesale at the International Fresh Produce Association.
Avocados continued to be a strong performer in May, showing a 21.2% increase in pounds compared to a year ago. Mandarins and oranges were also on the upswing at 15.7% and 3.9%, respectively. Berries showed signs of a comeback behind a 3.3% increase vs. May 2022 while melons rose 3%. Apples, however, continued to struggle (down 4.8% year-over-year in May) while grapes experienced the biggest drop (down 23.9%).
“Berries continued to be an incredible powerhouse: twice the size of the No. 2 seller and achieving a 3.3% gain in pounds,” said Jonna Parker, principal, Fresh Foods Team Lead at Circana. “There aren’t too many items that show that kind of growth in the current environment.”
Vegetables did not see a dramatic increase in pounds sold over the past 52 weeks, Circana found. Peppers led with a 3.1% increase compared to May 2022. Cucumbers (+2.5%), onions (+1.7%), and tomatoes (0.8%) also experienced positive gains. Broccoli, on the other hand, was down 6.8% year-over-year.
“I still think [fresh produce] will continue to do well,” said Lyons Wyatt. “The more [grocers] can communicate the benefits of products within immunity, digestion, and energy it is going to help shoppers with their health and wellness journey.”