Not everyone found comfort in junk food during the pandemic last year. Some shoppers maintained better habits with healthy snacks and by incorporating more veggies into their home-cooked meals. This is according to FMI — The Food Industry Association’s "Power of Produce 2021," which found that produce department sales reached $69.6 billion in 2020, an 11.4% increase.
The survey also found that grocery shoppers are purchasing more produce than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic, with consumers purchasing more fresh fruit (up 8.9%) and more vegetables (up 14.2%).
“We see two major trends driving the growth of produce sales — at-home cooking and health and well-being,” said Rick Stein, VP of fresh foods for Arlington, Virginia-based FMI. “Shoppers tell us they are cooking more at home; they are eating more vegetables at dinner and lunch and more fruit for breakfast and snacks. While these trends began in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re likely to see them continue due to younger generations driving these trends.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, 44% of grocery shoppers said that they're putting more effort into healthful eating. In fact, 71% of grocery shoppers said that nutrition and health is a primary or important reason for purchasing fruits and vegetables. Shoppers choose produce for nutrients, digestive health, an overall healthy eating pattern, heart health and immune support.
With 85% of shoppers welcoming more nutrition information about fresh fruits and vegetables, FMI suggested that food retailers have the opportunity to use the expertise of registered dietitians to engage with consumers and share credible messaging on nutrition attributes and the health benefits of including fruits and vegetables in one's diet.
Associates can also help alleviate customer confusion regarding natural and organic offerings by answering questions to improve customers' shopping experience.
Meanwhile, more than three out of four shoppers (78%) have changed their meal preparation with regard to fruits and vegetables, including trying different kinds, using new spices and sauces, or testing new prep methods. Half of shoppers are integrating fruits and vegetables into their meal plans somewhat or at lot more often, and while 41% rely on friends and family for meal inspiration, the appetite for recipe websites, YouTube, cookbooks and social media is strong. FMI emphasized that the opportunity continues for retailers to be a source of inspiration for family meals that include fruits and vegetables.
The rise in at-home cooking hasn't diminished the need for convenient meal solutions among shoppers. The share of shoppers who purchase value-added produce — pre-washed or cut — increased from 31% in 2019 to 37% in 2020. Three out of 10 shoppers believe that they'll purchase more value-added produce in the upcoming year — the highest share in four years.
Retailers should ensure that they have enough department “real estate” for value-added produce, the biggest produce change in years that looks like it’s here to stay.
In addition to these focus areas, the FMI report covered produce packaging and sustainability trends, online produce purchasing habits, and fresh versus frozen food trends.
"The Power of Produce 2021" was released at The Southeast Produce Council Southern Exposure event. The research was conducted by San Antonio Texas-based 210 Analytics and made possible by the Southeast Produce Council, Burris Logistics and Yerecic Label.
FMI works with and on behalf of the entire food industry to advance a safer, healthier and more efficient consumer food supply chain. The organization brings together a wide range of members across the value chain — from retailers that sell to consumers, to producers that supply food and other products, as well as the wide variety of companies providing critical services — to amplify the collective work of the industry.