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Frozen, tinned fruit and veg enjoy record highs amid COVID-19 stockpiling

While Australian consumers stocked up on food essentials at home amid the coronavirus pandemic, Nielsen Homescan reported an increase in fresh produce sales during March that surpassed expectations.

In the four weeks ending March 22, overall growth of the fresh produce category reached a two-year high, up 5.1 per cent in volume sold compared to the same period a year ago. The result signalled a break in recent trends wherein fresh produce showed generally flat sales.

In March, many retailers retracted promos in an attempt to manage demand and consumers faced higher average prices due to supply chain disruption from the bushfires and drought.

Dollar sales for fresh produce sold online increased 37.2 per cent in the four weeks to February 22, compared to a year ago, but due to mass demand and pressure on supply chains, online sales trend for fresh produce fell to 9.5 per cent in the following four week period ending March 22.

“With more time at home and less desire to frequent stores due to the risk of COVID-19 exposure, Australians are shopping for produce differently than we’ve seen in the past. Similar to consumers in North America, the latest data highlights that Australians are stocking up on fruits and vegetables that have a longer shelf-life, and in some cases, seeking produce options that are more cost-effective such as canned or frozen fruit and vegetables. In the month of March, both shelf-stable and frozen produce have seen unprecedented sales growth,” Melanie Norris, Nielsen Australia’s fresh industry lead, said.

Despite an increase in volume sales for fresh vegetables by 15.0 per cent in the last four weeks, vegetables that store well such as potatoes, carrots and onions had the most sales growth to the category. Despite healthy eating and snacking at home, surprisingly fresh fruit volume sales declined in the month of March. Bananas, apples and stone fruit recorded volume growth; while traditional lunchbox and snackable favorites including berries, avocados and citrus declined compared to 2019.

Despite all these, Nielsen said the government’s recent announcement of schools possibly opening in the next few weeks, there may be a sales recovery for some of these fruit categories.

In the four weeks to March 22, frozen fruit recorded an all-time high for volume growth (+39.3 per cent), while canned fruit sales also jumped by 73.9 per cent. Given that the average price of fruit was 7.9 per cent higher than the same time year ago, budgetary constraints may have influenced stronger frozen and canned fruit sales as well. The same pattern could be seen for vegetables with frozen sales up by 59.8 per cent , while canned vegetables increased by 118.5 per cent.

“Over the next few months, retailers and brands could consider finding new ways to inspire consumers to use the fruit and vegetable options they are purchasing. Recipe ideas using longer-lasting vegetables with stockpiled pantry items, or creative ways to use frozen and canned produce could help to drive consumption. Working with smaller outlets to provide home delivery options may also assist in facilitating produce purchases for those who are homebound and unable to make it out to their local store,” Norris said.

Nielsen said that as Australians start to live the new normal – they will look for “trust, safety and place of origin” when buying fresh produce. The sales of longer-lasting fruits and vegetables may soon slow down when they eat through their stockpile of fresh produce.

“Learnings from China suggest that online shopping for fresh foods will only continue to rise in importance. From a retail perspective, much will need to be done to build the supply chains to meet future omnichannel food demands. The specialisation of small stores to match the surrounding demographics and the expansion of e-commerce and home delivery services will be key areas of transformation in the coming months,” concluded Norris.

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