Though demand for organic produce has been a boon for supermarkets over the past year, fruit — both conventional and organic — has been a standout.
Overall fruit sales climbed 9.8% year over year for the 52 weeks ended May 29, according to NielsenIQ.
“The gaps between conventional and organic fruit have really closed tremendously,” said Jay Schneider, head of produce buying for Gorillas US, a Berlin-based startup that offers grocery delivery in New York City. “More than ever, we are seeing the popularity of clean, healthy eating.”
Two fruit segments — apples and grapes — played a big role in the strong growth of fruit sales. More than 4.3 billion apples and 3.7 billion grapes were sold during the 52-week period, representing increases of 8.3% and 10%, respectively, and dwarfing growth in previous years. Last year, for example, apple and grape volume edged up only 1.3% and 0.3%, respectively.
In the apple segments, newer varieties like SnapDragon, KORU, RubyFrost, SnapDragon and EverCrisp continue to excite consumers.
“Any organization that supports a premium apple variety will tell you that the sheer number of new varieties out there is impacting the category,” said Jessica Wells, executive director for Crunch Time Apple Growers, a Lockport, N.Y.-based cooperative of apple growers. “This isn’t true just for apples, but across all different types of produce. While this does present competitive challenges, it should be good for the industry as a whole, making apples more appealing to more people as more high-flavor varieties are introduced.”
New flavors are also a sales catalyst for grapes. According to Shawn Peery, national vice president of produce at Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons Cos., grapes are hotter than ever, as new varieties with new tastes are delighting consumers.
“The common theme is these new varieties taste amazing,” Peery explained. “Grapes are always a popular item during the summer as the season kicked into full production in California and Mexico, and we expect them to continue to sell strong throughout the next few months.”
Elsewhere in produce, NielsenIQ data revealed that vegetable sales increased slightly year over year, up just 1.2%. Prepackaged salads saw growth of 3.2%, far less than the 11.1% gain a year earlier.
Berry sales also are surging. Michael Bonto, produce director for New Jersey fresh grocer Rastelli Market Fresh, noted that wellness concerns have consumers putting blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries high on their shopping lists.
“In general, fresh fruit sales have increased due to their overall health benefits,” Bonto said. “As expected, stone fruit is also coming on strong as a historic favorite.”
One of the big challenges for produce in 2022 is higher cost, and not just for organics. Escalated prices for fertilizer, palettes and fuel — not to mention labor and truck shortages — have hoisted the cost of many fruits and vegetables.
IRI data shows that as of May, year-over-year prices were up in many produce categories, with fruit accounting for 16 of the top 25. For instance, prices jumped 43% for limes and 34% for avocados. Price hikes for plums, grapefruit, mandarins and pomegranates all hovered around 20% to 25%. In vegetables, asparagus experienced the highest price spike, up 17%.
“While the increases are certainly concerning, there is some measure of good news in that the rate of inflation no longer accelerated but actually moderated a bit,” said Joe Watson, vice president of retail, foodservice and wholesale for the International Fresh Produce Association. “I talk to many retail produce professionals around the country, and they remain positive. While most agree that the elevated cost of transportation will persist — and possibly even be higher for products coming out of the western USA growing regions for the remainder of 2022 — the more regional crops coming into production could lessen the burden of high freight costs.”