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Industry Viewpoint: The product is the star

The Food Marketing Institute Power of Produce report is in its third year, and it has been an invaluable experience asking consumers questions about their choices when it comes to produce shopping. But as we all know as consumers, what we say and do don’t always match up. For this very reason, FMI takes the responses from the consumers we survey and compare them to data from IRI and Nielsen.POP-front

Once you compare the answers to the data, we find the real plotline.

The consumer confirmed that the star of the show is the actual produce product. The quality and appearance is the No. 1 factor that determines purchase in produce. Comparatively, that is not the case for meat. For example, our Power of Meat research illustrates that price-per-pound is the primary reason for meat purchases. When it comes to produce, consumers said they research their purchases in weekly ads, online and through supermarket apps; however, once they determine where they are going, the actual purchase is not based on price but instead the appearance and quality of the product.

Produce’s appearance puts significant pressure on the brick-and-mortar establishments to maintain the absolute best conditions possible. The good news is that if the consumer finds the advertised item they seek in great condition, they not only buy the item, but they also purchase additional products based on impulse. I know this is true for me, especially if the food retailer is offering me suggestions on how to cut or incorporate a new item into my menu plans.

Another great aspect of the produce department is how it lines up so well with consumers’ health and wellness priorities. Consumers are fully aware of the benefits of increased vegetable and fruit consumption, and the latest health information says that many of these products have specific health benefits for disease prevention. Some products are heart healthy; others have antioxidant properties or even positively contribute to diabetes or weight management. The concept of eating food to treat or prevent disease is becoming increasingly popular among consumers. Fewer than half of shoppers are consuming fresh produce on a daily basis, but many seek to increase consumption across meal occasions — fully recognizing its essential role in a balanced diet. Retailers and suppliers are wise to advise and provide shoppers with opportunities for targeted health and wellness messaging beyond the overall health halo of fresh produce.

Data proves consumers are making choices that align with their intentions. Overall produce sales are up 3 percent, while household penetration is 99.7 percent. The average basket size is $52 with produce vs. $36 without, and trips to the produce department are up 2.1 percent.

What consumers say — supported by data — provides retailers innumerable strategies for strengthening retailer-supplier relationships through the eyes of the shopper to make the department the idolized star of the store. However, it’s important to remember that product quality and department conditions are paramount to promoting consumption via increased purchases. In addition, incorporating education in the produce aisle addresses consumer lifestyle interests — namely by using signage, recipe and preparation information and employing retail dietitians to help the consumer navigate the fresh department.

(Rick Stein is Food Marketing Institute's vice president of fresh foods)