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  • Author: Mike Neary, Director Horticulture & Farmer Engagement, Bord Bia - The Irish Food Board


    Back in Mid March when the restrictions brought about by COVID-19 were being rolled out and people were confined to their own homes and local areas we saw how the shopping behaviour of consumers evolved in this unique situation with a renewed focus on staple products such as meat, potatoes & vegetables and a great interest in home baking and cooking with the demand for flour and cooking ingredients at a premium. At that time the fresh produce sector reported a significant upsurge in demand for potatoes, fruits and vegetables by up to 20% particularly for certain lines in the early weeks of the lockdown.


    However if we look at the retail sales data of the fresh produce category from Kantar Worldpanel over the last five years we can see that the trend that manifested itself in the early weeks of the recent lockdown has been happening gradually over that time period particularly with increasing value of sales in the fruit and potato categories and more modest growth in the vegetable category. A move towards more healthy living, better balanced diets and the availability of more convenient product formats is contributing to this trend. The value of the retail sales of fresh produce is now estimated at €1.6bn which is an increase of over 12% in the last five years. This is made up of fruit valued at €804m; vegetables at €570m and potatoes at €240m.


    Over the last five years the fruit category has been the star performer in the fresh produce category with the retail value of the category increasing by 18% in that period (corresponding 7% increase in volume). In particular product lines such as blueberries, raspberries and strawberries have showed value increases between 35% and 50% over this period with equally impressive volume growth. The strawberry category has now reached a retail value of €119m. After a number of years of category decline for potatoes recent years have seen both value and volume growth within the category which has been driven primarily by an increase in both the purchase frequency and the volume of potatoes purchased per buyer. The growth in the retail value of the vegetable segment of the market has been more modest at 2%.      


    The continued and growing importance of convenience as a key consideration when purchasing fresh produce continues to be important when one looks at the growth in the prepared fresh produce category which is now valued at €124m at retail level which is an increase of over ten percent in the last five years with volume showing a 28% increase over the period.