SAN ANTONIO – Heading into the first week of May elevated grocery sales continued in most of the fresh perimeter departments. Data from 210 Analytics and IRI shows sales in the fresh perimeter for the week ending on May 3 were 22.3% above sales during the same timeframe in 2019.  

The meat department remained the top-performing fresh category and dollar sales were up 51.3% coming into the first week of May. Pork (up 50.6%) and beef (up 45.5%) were the top performing meats. Chicken was up 29.5%, turkey was up 35.4% and lamb was up 6.9%. 

There was a significant gap between dollars and volume sales growth. The widest gap was a 12.3% gap between turkey dollar (35.4%) and volume sales (23.1%) followed by a 10.9% gap for beef and 10% gap for lamb. Volume gains being lower than dollar gains signals the pressure on the meat industry. Prices are rising as the supply chain is strained from meat processing plant closures due to COVID-19. 

“Pork production rebounded 15% from historically low levels last week, but continues to trail 2019 by 24%,” said Christine McCracken, executive director of food and agribusiness for Rabobank. “The beef industry has been slower to recover, with a +6% improvement since last week, and is still 32% below 2019 volumes. Nearly all US plants should be operational in the coming week, but labor shortages continue to limit industry volumes to 70% to 80% of normal. Labor challenges have forced the closure of plants in Europe and Brazil in the past week. US protein inventories are depleted, with retail and foodservice buyers are drawing on the same limited supply.” 

Supply is likely to continue impacting meat dollar and volume sales in the next few weeks to come. 

After meat, dairy is the next top performing fresh department with a sales boost of 28.7% over 2019 sales the week of May 3. Top performers in the category were butter (up 66.9%), whipped toppings (up 49%) and eggs (up 44.1%). Natural cheese was up 37.8%, while processed cheese was up 30.9%.  

“This week, 11 out of the 12 dairy sub-categories increased double digits versus a year ago,” said Abrielle Backhaus, research coordinator with the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA). “Butter and egg performance in particular have been very strong. Typically, higher meat prices, and in this case shortages, prompt people to venture more into eggs. But we are already dealing with sky-high demand for eggs with more breakfasts, lunches and dinners having moved at-home, not to mention the continued baking craze that is gripping the nation.”  

Produce was the next top performer heading into May with total sales up 17.2%. Fresh vegetables are still outperforming fresh fruit, with vegetable sales up 24% and fruit sales up 11.1%. The top performers in the department were oranges (up 68%), potatoes (up 47.1%) and lemons (up 42.4%%). Peppers, onions, mushrooms and broccoli also saw sales numbers elevated by 25% or more.    

“I am very encouraged with the early May fresh produce performance going into the summer months,” said Joe Watson, vice president of membership and engagement for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA). “As an industry we are working hard to keep the supply moving, putting employee safety and food safety front and center, and consumers are rewarding our efforts with their dollars. Additionally, foodservice trucks loaded with fresh produce hitting the roads once more was a very welcome sight this week and I am confident we will see strengthened overall produce demand in weeks to come.” 

Like in previous weeks, the bakery and deli departments were still struggling in the week leading up to May 3. The deli department continues to see mixed results. Overall, department sales were down 17.5%. While deli cheese was up at 18.1% and deli meat was up by 6.8%, the performance of deli prepared foods —down 35.1% — sank the department.  

“Throughout the pandemic, we have seen frozen meal solutions and foodservice meal delivery services perform strongly so the demand for convenient at-home solutions is there,” said Eric Richard, industry relations coordinator for IDDBA. “At the same time, shoppers want to limit the number of trips to stores, which is a big barrier to overcome for deli-prepared. As an industry, we have to solve the puzzle of how to drive engagement with deli-prepared, packaged or made-to-order, within the realities of the new shopping patterns.” 

Instore bakeries continued to see mixed results as well, resulting in entire department sales being down 16.6%. Within the department donuts (down 49.9%), cakes (down 22.4%) and rolls (down 9.7%) are most impacting the category. Bread and croissants continued to perform well, up 10% and 7.1%, respectively.  

“There are few signs that the elevated everyday demand will diminish any time soon,” said Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics. “Additionally, Mother’s Day may have provided another small sales boost with restaurants in most states still closed or open with limited seating capacity. Holiday solutions for smaller gatherings for Memorial Day, Father’s Day and other summer activities may help boost sales for deli-prepared.”