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Stronger retail purchase trend may stick around

Consumer purchase trends at retail during stay-at-home orders will likely become longer food buying trends after some restrictions are lifted.

That’s because the economic damage done to the country’s shoppers will lead to a slower recovery, even when some restaurants and other foodservice outlets begin to open back up, said Adam Brohimer, president of Category Partners, which provides retail data and trends.

In its weekly retail sales trend analysis, Category Partners uses Nielsen scan data to show for the week ending April 4, retail fresh produce sales were up 16.2 percent over this time last year. But that increase is less than half the increase it was two weeks ago.

Brohimer said some trends are starting to emerge.

“We’re seeing some leading indicators for the next six to nine months,” he said April 15. “Vegetables are really outperforming fruit. Some of that is comfort food [and that trend] will last because it brings normalcy to people’s lives, but also items like potatoes, offer flexibility and shelf life.”

He said with jobless claims now at 17 million, representing about 10 percent of all U.S. workers, economic struggles are now the reality, and it won’t change overnight. That means consumers will tend to prefer value to convenience.

Right now, consumers are also stretching out their visits to the store, which places a greater priority on buying items with longer shelf life, Brohimer said.

Some trends will be affected by seasonality, as April sees many shifts in various fruits’ and vegetables’ supply chains. For instance, grapes are shifting from imports to domestic supplies, while citrus is ending its domestic season and will start to look to imports.

Comfort vegetables, like potatoes and onions, may also give way to salad vegetables as many areas of the country welcome warmer weather.

Brohimer said foodservice may struggle to regain its lost business due to the pandemic shut-downs, because consumers aren’t in as good of financial shape to get their meals from restaurants.

But he cautioned that things can change very quickly, even weekly.

“When you dig below the numbers, things happen so fast, and it’s complicated with how retail works with foodservice,” he said. “But this is what we’re seeing based on today’s snapshot, that we’re still seeing elevated sales [in retail] year over year.”

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services