United Fresh Study Finds Vegetable Sales Up

Published on 12/08/2010 at 09:39AM by Bruce Blythe

U.S. fresh vegetable dollar sales rose 3.1% during the third quarter and consumers bought more lettuce, onions and peppers, while fruit sales gained 2.2%, according to a report from the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.

Onion dollar sales surged 26% in the three months ended Sept. 25, to a weekly average of $1,724 per store, primarily because prices jumped 24%, United Fresh said in its quarterly FreshFacts report, released Dec. 3. Lettuce sales rose 6.8%, to an average of $1,393, and peppers rose 5.1%, to $1,158.

Retail prices for six of 10 biggest-selling vegetable categories rose during the third quarter compared with the same period in 2009, according to the report, which United Fresh produced through a partnership with Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. and The Perishables Group, West Dundee, Ill.

"Consumers did not shy away from higher vegetable prices" as overall sales by volume climbed 1.3% during the quarter, United Fresh said in the report. "Gains were driven by ingredient/cooking vegetables, like onions, cooking greens, lettuce and peppers."

In fruit, seven of the 10 biggest-selling items posted dollar sales increases during the quarter as retail prices for many products declined. Gains were led by prepared fruits (9.2%), citrus (8.8%) and avocados (7.5%).

"In several categories, such as bananas, melons and prepared fruits, volume growth was sparked by price declines," the report said.

Avocados were one example of this trend, as prices fell nearly 18% and sales volume soared 30%.

Broadly, the sales gains reflect consumer trends toward healthier foods, as well as more people eating at home amid high unemployment and a weak economy, retail analysts say.

"From an economic standpoint, families have been preparing more meals at home rather than spending money at restaurants and other fast-food establishments," said Jeremy Diamond, a consultant with the Diamond Group, Baltimore. "Supermarkets are seeing an increase in all departments as a result."

Fruit and vegetable sales have been rising for over the past year. For the 52 weeks ended Sept. 25, U.S. fruit sales at retail totaled $19.3 billion, up 2% from the same period a year earlier, according to The Perishables Group. Retail vegetable sales rose 1.2%, to $19.9 billion. The sales figures do not include Wal-Mart, club stores small independent chain and "alternative" format retailers such as Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's.

During the third quarter, berries were the top seller among fruit categories, with a weekly average of $3,354 sold per store, up 2.6% from a year earlier, according to FreshFacts. Average weekly berry volume rose 1.1%.

In vegetables, packaged salads were the largest seller, even though dollar sales declined 1.6% to a weekly average of $2,753 per store. Volume fell 2.8%.