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Tomatoes look to build on pandemic demand bump

We’ve all seen the data that shows the past year has seen huge growth at retail, and the tomato segment has even outpaced that.

A March 9 webinar from the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas’ BB #:144354 Tomato Week dug into the reasons behind tomatoes’ surge in popularity.

Rick Stein, vice president of fresh for FMI, said scan data shows overall retail produce sales were up 10.1 percent over 2019, with vegetables seeing 12.6 percent growth and fruit at 7.7 percent over the previous year.

Tomatoes checked in at 17.6 percent growth over 2019.

“They’re so versatile, being used in burgers, salads, sandwiches, meal prep,” he said, noting that they also have good shelf life.
Stein said there’s no reason to think tomatoes will see any loss in demand in 2021.

“I believe in 2020, consumers cooked more at home because they had to eat at home,” he said. “They realized they saved money and they enjoyed eating with their family. Going forward, there will be pent-up demand for restaurants, and then we will realize how much we were spending [eating away from home] and we will cook more at home because we’re more comfortable with it, and there’s a plethora of ways to use tomatoes.”

Stein said overall, grocery retail did a great job during the pandemic of 2020 and should be able to build on it going forward.
He said there was initial stress on retail in the first few weeks of lockdowns last spring, but hardly any grocery stores closed, and hardly any had supply issues.

“Convenience became more important, and retailers will emphasize that more,” he said. “We’ll see more premade food combined with food as ingredients. Health and well-being will continue to be an emphasis.”

FMI plans to release its annual “Power of Produce” report on April 7, which will have sales data and analysis, Stein said.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services