As part of the Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) commitment to provide its members with a holistic understanding of consumer attitudes, uses and shopping behaviors around produce, it worked with Information Resources Inc. (IRI) to field a custom shopper sentiment survey to the National Consumer Panel. Fielded in June 2021, the survey was directed to known U.S. buyers of the top 15 highest selling fruits and vegetables in a 12-week period. The insights gleaned from these surveys were combined with POS and household panel data to provide an in-depth overview of shopper sentiment towards the top 15 highest selling fruits and vegetables. Below are some key findings from the full report.
While it’s known that shoppers choose where to buy produce primarily based on location and convenience, with traditional grocery stores the most popular channel for one-stop shopping including produce—there’s opportunity to increase produce shopping beyond traditional grocery, using the unique drivers that support purchases in each channel. For example, freshness and selection draw shoppers to specialty grocers and farmers’ markets while quality is a driver for specialty grocers, club stores and farmers’ markets.
Produce shopping is still done primarily in-store but there is an opportunity to build on openness to online shopping post COVID-19 restrictions. It’s important to retain openness to online shopping spurred by COVID-19 safety concerns but benefits, primarily convenience, need to be reinforced and key barriers need to be alleviated—especially concern over freshness and quality. The majority of online produce shoppers are willing to buy again but there is strong reluctance to trial among those who haven’t already done so.
Motivations and Preferences
Produce is most often purchased on stock-up trips and there’s opportunity to increase produce purchase volume during buying trips. Top purchasing motivators are deals, quantity-based pricing, shelf life, seasonality, and bulk-weight options. Maximize volume during trips with enticing deals including quantity-based deals and components for special meals, information about storage to extend shelf life, signage to communicate in-season produce, and bulk-weight options.
When it comes to preference for packaging versus bulk weight, in general, bulk produce is preferred over pre-packaged items, though category makes a difference. Bulk weight options are appealing because they allow for close inspection, and they can reduce waste in cost and packaging given that many shoppers prefer to carefully choose each piece and buy only what is needed. Avocados, peppers, tomatoes and onions are a few examples of items that shoppers say they prefer to buy as bulk weight options.
Packaged produce is preferred because of convenience, time savings, easy transport and storage, and value. These attributes are the top drivers for packaged fruit and salad, but packaging is also preferred for lettuce, potatoes, mushrooms and berries.
Consumption and Perceptions
Although fruits and vegetables play important roles in their diets, U.S. shoppers continue to “assign” each to specific eating occasions for specific reasons, thereby limiting their usage.
Consumed primarily for taste and appreciated for its nutritional benefits, fruit is assigned to food occasions that are rooted in speed and simplicity (pre/post workout snack, dessert or treat); require limited cooking/blending (smoothies) or to satisfy a craving. When compared to vegetables, fruit is more likely to be perceived as tasty, fun, healthy and cool. But, in the minds of U.S. consumers, beyond smoothies and drinks, shoppers don’t associate fruits with recipe prep, and they are rarely a consideration for savory occasions.
While they don’t have the same cool, trendy, or premium perception that popular fruits possess, vegetables are more likely to be perceived as versatile household staples that can be prepared and eaten in different ways. In addition to being perceived as highly versatile, cooking staples like mushrooms, peppers, onions, potatoes, and tomatoes are also considered easy to work with and are associated with recipes. Shoppers are most likely to use them as an ingredient in a meal or a salad, but there is room to improve their health perceptions.
Eileen O’Leary is director, insights and analytics for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA).
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