The power of produce

The produce department remains the heart of the supermarket as consumers continue to focus on their health and home cooking.

There is no denying that the produce department plays a vital role in the health and well-being of the supermarket business as well as consu­mers. Industry observers would be hard-pressed to name a top-performing supermarket with a limp and ugly produce aisle. Fresh fruits and vegetables are what drive many consumers to pick supermarkets over other retail channels and even one supermarket over another.

Like many departments, produce has taken a bit of a hit during the Great Recession, as consumers look to canned and frozen options to help keep their budgets in line while still eating healthy. According to the New York-based Nielsen Co., dollar sales of prepackaged, preweighed produce for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 23 were essentially flat, with just a 0.8% increase over the previous period. Meanwhile, equivalized unit volume rose 4.9%, indicating that more items were sold at lower prices. For the previous period, equivalized volume was up just 0.6% while dollar sales were up 5.7%.

Still, there were many categories that experienced sales and volume increases, some in the double digits. Spinach was strong once again, with a 16.6% sales increase on a 16.1% gain in equivalized unit volume. Garlic and herbs also saw sales and volume increases as home cooks look for ways to add spark to their meals.

Precut salad mixes was one category that saw a sales decrease of 4.3% this period after being flat the year before, an indication that consumers are pinching pennies and less willing to pay for the convenience of prepackaged salad. Potato sales were also down a bit, but that followed a strong performance in the previous tracked period.

In the fruit category, cranberry sales were strong, along with strawberries and kiwi. On the flip side, apples and oranges experienced lower sales on lower volumes.

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