SAN ANTONIO – Free from the impact of this year or last year’s Easter holiday, data from 210 Analytics and IRI shows sales in the fresh perimeter for the week ending on April 26 were 23.1% above sales during the same timeframe in 2019. 

The meat department remains the top-performing fresh category, which was up 49.7% during the last full week of April. Pork (up 61%), beef (up 58%) and turkey (up 43%) were the top performing meats, trailed by chicken which was up 43% and lamb which was down 3%. 

Supply is likely to impact meat sales in the weeks to come.  

“Based on the current market changes as well as announced plant closures, sourcing has been challenging to say the least,” said Samer Rahman, senior director of meat and seafood for Allegiance Retail Services. “With the news reports on plant closures, customers are under the impression meat will not be available in any form. They were alarmed by these reports and started loading up on fresh and frozen meats.” 

Christine McCracken, the executive director of food and agribusiness for Rabobank, said that consumers will likely begin seeing noticeable shortages of pork, beef and chicken at retail stores the first full week of May. 

“Plants are beginning to reopen, but labor has been slow to return and volumes remain sharply below year-ago levels,” said McCracken. “Beef and pork production are both down 35% year-over-year. A handful of chicken and turkey plants closed in the past week, but the impact on total production has been limited. Processors are allocating limited supplies to their bigger customers, leaving smaller, more regional operators with fewer options.” 

After meat, dairy is the next top performing fresh department with a sales boost of 37.9% over 2019 sales the week of April 26. Top performers in the category were butter (up 77.4%), eggs (up 53%) and whipped toppings (up 52.1%). Natural cheese was up 49%, while processed cheese was up 42.7%. 

“Dairy became a sales powerhouse during the mid-March panic buying weeks and has remained on top ever since,” said Abrielle Backhaus, research coordinator with the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA). “This week, every sub-category in dairy was up double digits, ranging from +11% for yogurt to 77.4% for butter. With many drivers, whether quarantine baking or cooking, everyday demand for all things dairy remained strong.” 

Produce was the next top performer in the last full week of April with total sales up 22.9%. Fresh vegetables are still outperforming fresh fruit, with vegetable sales up 30.4% and fruit sales up 16.2%. The top performers in the department were oranges (up 71%), potatoes (up 50.8%) and mushrooms (up 45.9%). Peppers, onions and tomatoes also saw sales numbers elevated by 33% or more.  

“These numbers very clearly show that higher everyday demand driven by in-home consumption is here to stay for the foreseeable future,” said Jonna Parker, team lead of fresh for IRI. “As the market is settling into its new realities, headwinds are starting to ease, though some lingering supply chain issues remain. Then there is an entirely new shopping dynamic that affects everything from the demand curve to having to find new ways to drive impulse.” 

The bakery and deli departments were struggling heading into the last week of April. The deli department continues to see mixed results. Overall, department sales were down 14.8%. While deli cheese was still up at 30.5% and deli meat was up by 16.9%, the performance of deli prepared foods —down 36.3% — damaged department sales.  

While deli prepared sections remained closed at some grocery stores across the country, customers are also increasingly moving toward pre-packaged foods as a safety measure, which is also causing the downward turn of the section. 

“Some states are allowing restaurants to re-open, albeit with limited capacity, which may pose another challenge for deli-prepared sales in the next few weeks,” said Eric Richard, industry relations coordinator for IDDBA. “Making sure that deli-prepared offerings, whether pre-packaged or made-to-order, are on the radar is crucial for everyday solutions or holidays such as Mother’s Day coming up.” 

Instore bakeries also continue to be impacted by limited operations with entire department sales down 17.3%. Within the department donuts (down 49.6%), cakes (down 26.8%) and rolls (down 8.6%) are most impacting the category. Bread and croissants continued to perform well, up 12.9% and 17%, respectively. 

“Going into May, several states have released detailed plans for re-opening in phases. In some, restaurants could reopen starting May 1, though often with social distancing and occupancy rate restrictions in place,” said Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics. “The reopening of restaurants in these states may provide an indicator of consumers’ mental readiness and economic ability to re-engage with foodservice. For the foreseeable future, it is likely that grocery retailing will continue to capture an above-average share of the food dollar.”