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Fruit needs a boost from all of us

Bagged oranges and apples have taken over the entry displays at my local store, and rightfully so. Photo by Pamela Riemenschneider

Fruit sales dollars are on a troubling trend line. In the latest numbers from IRI, dollars are up only 7% year-over-year in the week ending April 12, a slight decline from the previous week.

While 7% gains should be a good thing, these are numbers during the COVID-19 crisis and this was the week leading up to Easter, which traditionally sees a bump in sales.

That’s not to say there aren’t certain categories with promising sales. Here are the Top 10 fruit items:

Citrus fruits, particularly oranges, are having a moment. It could be that consumers heard the rumor that you can fight COVID-19 with Vitamin C. (Have I got some great news for them about broccoli, cantaloupe, cauliflower, kale, kiwifruit, papaya, red, green or yellow bell pepper, sweet potato, strawberries, and tomatoes! All of those are high in Vitamin C, too!)

Seeing oranges up an average of 56.8% over the past five weeks is unthinkable. Reading numbers like this week after week has actually spurred me to purchase oranges.

Other items are challenged, however, like melons, watermelons, pineapples, papayas, grapes, kiwifruit, plums, pears, dates, mangos and more.

Date volume and dollars are 2/3 of what they normally are this time of year.

Is it because consumers are scared of shelf life? Is it because they want bagged fruit? Oranges in bags have taken over the entryway display at my local H-E-B.

I’m not buying it.

Or, rather, I’m buying lots of fruit.

It coordinated nicely with my Costco bouquet, too.

Take a look at this gorgeous fruit bowl. What if I told you the plums had been in my crisper drawer for at least two weeks, after softening up in a fruit bowl for two weeks before that? And the blueberries were more than a week old. Those raspberries were purchased five days prior.

And it’s beautiful. And my kids ate it immediately.

I’ve been buying amazing anjou pears hard as a rock at the store, and eating them nearly a week later.

Mangos I purchased four days ago aren’t ready for me to eat — yet.

There are few fruit items that truly have to be eaten immediately, in my experience.

For me, they are strawberries and bananas. I try to eat strawberries within two days of purchase.

Bananas are variable depending on their color when purchased. Many retailers emphasize now and later with two-stage ripeness on displays.

Now is the time to educate consumers about how to buy fruit to last the week. I’m seeing a few organizations do this, including Produce for Kids, The Produce Moms and the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

These are fantastic resources. I’d go even further and provide a step-by-step guide to buying fresh fruit to last a week, or even two, for consumers meticulously planning their shopping trips. Provide a calendar for which fruits to eat on which days.

You’d be surprised at the insider tips most people don’t know. Did you know ripe avocados can last WEEKS in the fridge? I buy two bags at a time, ripen them and keep them in my crisper drawer. My crisper drawer is now dubbed the Shrine of Perpetual Avocados.

Plums are one of my favorite keep-on-hand-at-all-times fruits. They last forever. WRINKLY PLUMS ARE EVEN MORE DELICIOUS. (same goes for mangos, by the way — a little wrinkle on the skin means it’s starting to get extra sweet.)

Apples are a long-lasting fruit, too. I have actually been hoarding Cosmic Crisp apples in my crisper drawer in my garage fridge since January, and they are just as good as they were three months ago. I’m not even kidding.

Next week’s numbers are going to be even more troubling, as it’s going up against Easter 2019, so we’ll keep an eye on the trend line over the past six weeks instead.

Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics and I discussed the numbers in part 1 of this week’s analysis. Watch here:

Pamela Riemenschneider is the Retail Editor for Blue Book Services.