People choose to go to a traditional grocery store over a club store, supercenter, discount store or other alternative channel for a number of reasons.

As Supermarket Perimeter’s Supermarket Shopper Produce and Fresh Department Trends Study found, one of the top reasons — if not the top reason — is because they prefer their traditional store’s fresh perimeter departments.

Supermarkets are the top choice for consumers across all perimeter departments. Leading the way is produce: a staggering 94% of all consumers buy fresh fruits and vegetables in a traditional grocery store.

Eighty-seven percent buy instore bakery products from their traditional grocer, 84% buy meat and poultry, 82% buy deli/prepared and 61% buy seafood.

Supercenters are the second-most popular destination for all five fresh perimeter departments. Club stores are the third most popular option for all departments except produce. Specialty and organic stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s get the nod there.

Supermarkets are also the top choice among consumers when it comes to a number of fresh produce attributes, things like availability of branded product and smaller-sized packaged items, wide selection and freshness.

In fact, it’s not even close. Forty-one percent of shoppers, for instance, said traditional grocers are best for availability of branded items. In second place were supercenters with just 13%.

Grocery stores also topped supercenters on availability of smaller-sized packaged items (39% to 11%), wide selection (38% to 14%), freshness at time of purchase (35% to 7%), pre-packaged items (34% to 14%), appearance (33% to 8%), uniqueness of items (33% to 10%), staying fresh after purchase (32% to 8%) and many others.

Specialty and organic stores claimed second place in some of those categories, but still polled well below traditionals, e.g. on freshness at time of purchase (9%), uniqueness (13%) and staying fresh after purchase (9%).


Cross-channel popularity

Regardless of the channel, demand for fresh fruits and vegetables is strong and should stay that way, given current consumer trends, says Tal Shoshan, CEO of Ontario, California-based FiveStar Gourmet Foods.

“Many years ago, what consumers said and did were two different things. Today, that isn’t the case — they’re saying they want to eat healthier, and they actually are,” Shoshan says. “We’re very pleased with the overall growth of fresh produce consumption and with the increased access that retailers are providing.”

Grab-and-go options, he adds, continue to serve consumers’ “overwhelming need” for convenience. FiveStar is banking on that fact for its future growth.

“Being able to offer a portable, healthy and affordable snack or meal to a consumer is a challenge,” he says. “FiveStar Gourmet Foods has continued to raise the bar and create a new level of standard.”

The company’s Simply Fresh Salad line, for instance, includes premium quality toppings and custom dressings that Shoshan says is an industry first. FiveStar, he says, is also the only provider of salads with antibiotic-free chicken. “We continue to pioneer through extreme innovation and that won’t change in the years to come.”


The digital factor

A quarter of all consumers we surveyed said they shop for groceries online. While fresh produce isn’t one of the top items they buy from their computers or phones, it might be more than you’d think: 19% buy fruit online, 18% buy vegetables.

Not surprisingly, time-strapped parents are more likely to buy groceries online. Half of all young, single parents do so, and 36% of young couples with children do.

At the low end of the online grocery shopping spectrum are middle age couples with no children and older people/empty nesters (both 13%).

How fit you are is a great indicator of your likelihood to buy groceries online. Fifty-nine percent of fitness enthusiasts (e.g. cross trainers, body builders) do so, compared to 25% of healthy/active people and 17% of not particularly active people.

While most people might assume that younger, more tech-savvy consumers might shop online more than their older counterparts, we found the opposite to be true.

Forty-one percent of baby boomers and 35% of Gen Xers grocery shop online, but just 26% of millennials do.

Online shopping has driven Salinas, California-based Growers Express/Green Giant Fresh to become as “specific” as possible with consumers, says Tom Byrne, president.

“Consumers used to stand in front of an array of products and take the time to make selections,” he says. “Now they’re multitasking on a shopping app during school pick-up and choosing by name the items they need. We strive to remain top-of-mind so that consumers purposely add Green Giant Fresh Veggie Bowls or packaged vegetable products to their orders.”

Social media plays a huge role in this process, he adds. Growers Express/Green Giant Fresh helps usher consumers along the journey from awareness to loyalty by emphasizing where the company’s products can be found, directing followers to the nearest store and sometimes incentivizing purchase.

“We also provide reminders to add specific products to online orders in our social media content at key times during the week,” Byrne says. “Showcasing recipes and dayparts in this content shows them how conveniently our products fit into their day.”

Online purchases of produce are definitely growing, but many consumers are not confident that online companies will deliver the fruit at the ripeness level they want, says Kevin Moffitt, president and CEO of the Milwaukie, Oregon-based Pear Bureau Northwest.

“Consumers are still interested in selecting their own produce,” he says. “However, most are unsure of how to properly select ripe fruit such as melons, mangos and even pears. Online retailers are training their people better, and this should continue giving consumers more confidence to buy fruit online.”


The power of branding

Branding may not have the same impact on fresh produce as it has on other retail food categories, but it can play a significant role.

Our research showed that branding’s influence varies significantly by commodity. Bananas, oranges, bagged leafy greens and potatoes are among the produce items consumers are most likely to buy in a branded form.

Nearly half of all Americans (46%) purchase branded bananas only. That’s followed by oranges (32%), berries (29%), grapes and apples (both 28%).

And of those who don’t always purchase branded versions of those fruits, most do so at least occasionally. Only 6% of consumers, for instance, said they never purchase branded bananas.

On the vegetable side, bagged leafy greens take the top spot — 35% of those surveyed said they purchased branded product all the time.

Coming in second are potatoes (31%), followed by tomatoes (27%), onions (24%) and bell peppers (21%).

As with fruit shoppers, most vegetable shoppers also buy branded vegetables at least occasionally. Just 10%, for example, say they never buy bagged leafy greens. A similar number said the same about potatoes.

Few brands in or outside of produce are as strong as Green Giant. Growers Express/Green Giant Fresh is known and trusted as an expert in fresh vegetables, which gives consumers reassurance when they reach for the company’s other packaged vegetable products, Byrne says.

“They know they’re getting the highest quality vegetables from the field and don’t have to spend the time hand-selecting vegetables one-by-one,” he says. “We know that traceability is important, and we have led the way with technologies that allow us to pinpoint the exact source of every product we ship. There’s a comfort factor with a brand like ours.”

Watsonville, California-based California Giant Berry Farms is seeing more and more consumers writing the company, saying how they look for their brand, says Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing.

“Our database has a very dedicated Berry Squad we nurture and grow every day,” she says. “We all have brands we follow in our daily lives, so it was just a matter of time before consumers really started focusing on learning more about the brands they align themselves with when buying fresh produce.”

She adds that Cal Giant works hard to tell the story behind the brand on the package. That’s translating into loyal followers who search for the company’s brand on its product locator tool at

It wasn’t all that long ago that the most prominent brands of produce were bananas, Moffitt says.

With the increase of packaged salads, cut fruit and pouch bags, he says, branded produce is now common throughout the produce department. “Packaging not only allows brands to prominently display their logo, they can also add nutrition information and tell the story of the product.” 

Branded produce is especially popular among fitness enthusiasts. Fifty-eight percent of them, for instance, only buy branded bananas. By contrast, 48% of healthy/active people and 40% of not particularly active people do so.

The contrast is even sharper when it comes to vegetables. For instance, more than six out of ten (62%) of fitness enthusiasts only buy branded bagged leafy greens, compared to 36% of healthy/active and 27% of not particularly active people.

The reasons for choosing branded fresh produce over unbranded are many, but familiarity is the clear No. 1.

Sixty-three percent of consumers say they purchase branded because they generally look for brands they’re familiar with. Freshness (40%), consistency (39%), food safety (35%) and flavor (27%) are among the other top reasons.