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Shoppers are purchasing smaller amounts of produce, more frequently

Fruit and vegetable sales are on the upswing

The produce sector is undergoing a growth spurt.

May produce department volume sales for the five weeks ending June 2 were up 3.4% versus the year-earlier period, along with a 3.9% increase in dollar sales, reports Circana, a Chicago-based market research firm. Fresh fruit volume sales rose 4.2% and fresh vegetables increased 2.4%.

Major fruit varieties with strong volume gains include berries (up 10.7%), grapes (15.7%) and apples (9.8%). Popular fresh vegetables with volume increases include tomatoes (5.4%), lettuce (2.8%), and onions (3.1%).

Greater trip frequency is the major element driving higher sales, said Jonna Parker, Circana team lead for fresh foods. Rather than buying in bulk and risking waste from fruits and vegetables going bad before consumption, many shoppers are purchasing smaller amounts of produce during each store visit, she said, noting that average annual buyer trips to produce departments grew to 84.4 in 2024, up from about 77 in 2019.

“People shopping ‘just in time’ are making more trips to stores for fewer things and produce is making it into the baskets on those small trips,” Parker said. “Consumers want to keep the cost of each shopping trip on a moderate scale. Produce is remarkable in that it is gaining in trip frequency while categories like meat and seafood are declining.”

In addition, while produce prices have risen about 18% since 2019, the increase is far below that of other food categories, she said, adding that many shelf-stable and frozen foods have inflation rates of 30% to 35% over the last five years. “Produce is unique compared to other such categories as meat, general foods, and beverages, which are growing in dollar sales but not incremental units,” Parker said.

Retailers have a major opportunity to further enhance activity by enticing shoppers to buy more types of produce, she said, noting that most consumers only purchase an average of seventeen varieties and categories per year. “The typical produce department stocks 80 varieties and categories so consumers are only hitting a small portion of what they could buy,” Parker said. “There is potential for much stronger growth.”

Spurring the average household to purchase one more type of fruit or vegetable “is a low-hanging strategy” that could significantly increase revenues, she said. “By providing people with reasons to buy different selections, produce growth would be off the charts,” Parker said. “The key is to encourage consumers to buy more varieties instead of fighting between varieties.”

Merchandisers can generate interest in a greater array of products by distributing money-saving coupons and providing information via QR codes, signage, and social media, Parker said.

“Younger consumers and those more affluent and educated are hungry for education about such elements as the growing region, growing conditions, and why they should pick a particular store for produce,” she said. “Shoppers are more complex and savvier. Tell them outside the store what you are doing differently.”

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