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Though the average supermarket fresh produce department has been riding a wave of unprecedented gains during the past 12 months, retail category executives are modestly cautious about getting carried away by the possibilities of ever-riper category growth for the balance of the year, according to consensus viewpoints expressed in Progressive Grocers 2014 Retail Produce Review.
While fresh produce has long been the crown jewel of most supermarkets? overall fresh statement, the department is progressively taking on an even greater role in light of heightened consumer desire for more nutritious, less processed foods. And though fresh produce purchases continue to reign supreme for main meals, a growing number of consumers are embracing smaller meals and snacks, and are turning to conveniently packaged fruits and vegetables to fill the bill.
To take full advantage of the plentiful opportunities abounding thanks to higher fresh vegetable and fruit consumption, savvy store leaders are playing up sensory cues with more impactful displays accentuating a global ? and, as often as possible, a local ? bounty.
Mindful that the department is a top factor for today?s consumers in deciding where to shop, retail produce directors can ill afford to rest on traditional tactics to ensure that their stores? fresh produce proposition is maintained. That?s why many are turning up the wattage on planned investments of energy-efficient lighting, cases, signage and mobile merchandisers, as depicted on the chart on page 120 ? just one of several important takeaways revealed in this year?s Retail Produce & Floral Review.
Results for PG?s exclusive, retailer-driven produce study were once again calculated from the direct input of a cross-section of national, regional and independent category leaders responsible for their stores? produce procurement decisions. Responses to the annual benchmarking study, which unfolds on these pages, captures average sales and operational performance data for the 12-month period ended July 2014. The study also features 52-week point-of-sale data from Nielsen Perishables Group FreshFacts, which appears on page 124.
Among the key highlights of this year?s annual produce survey, 75.7 percent of PG?s produce survey participants confirmed stellar performance during 2014 thus far, while 9.2 percent reported declines, rounded out by 15.1 percent whose produce sales are holding the line with last year?s. However, when asked what they anticipate will unfold with produce department sales during the most influential selling period of the calendar year (Q4), 70.7 percent of panelists expressed a more cautionary view, alongside 26.8 percent who anticipate status quo sales for the remainder of the year, offset by a mere 2.4 percent who foresee potential sales declines.
Further, as depicted on the chart on page 120, while retail produce teams are increasingly stocking more ready-to-eat convenience products ? such as packaged salads (9.6 percent), organics (7.2 percent), local (5.5 percent), fresh-cut fruit (3.7 percent) and veggies (3.5 percent), store brands (2.6 percent), and specialties/exotics (2.2 percent) ? random-weight vegetables and fruit, at 28.5 percent and 28.2 percent, respectively, are still driving produce sales.
And although floral sales contribute an average 2.1 percent to the parent produce department?s total pie, things are coming up roses for 40.8 percent of retail panelists, as noted on the chart on page 120, alongside nearly the same (37.5 percent) who reported steady comparable floral category sales, good for a 1.8 percent overall gain. The remaining 21.7 percent, however, reported decreased floral sales.