SAN ANTONIO - The latest monthly COVID-19 impact reports put together by 210 Analytics and IRI show that fresh perimeter sales remain over 10% above pre-pandemic levels. In February, the fresh perimeter clocked an 11.3% increase over February 2020. 

“In December, we saw consumers moving around much more than any other month during the pandemic,” said Jonna Parker, team lead fresh for IRI. “But come February, trips and basket size trends moved back to the patterns that we saw throughout most of 2020. Trips fell below 2020 levels in February, whereas the spend per trip remained highly elevated. This is good news for dairy, deli cheese, deli meat and packaged bakery sales that have benefited from the home-centric spending patterns. However, perimeter bakery and prepared food sales thrive on frequent trips and have experienced sales pressure for many months now.”  

210 Analytics analyzed the IRI sales findings, made possible by IDDBA, to help understand how dairy, deli and bakery sales are developing throughout the pandemic. 

Of the fresh departments, seafood saw the highest year-over-year growth with dollar sales up 27.2%. Lobster and crab were the category’s biggest sellers, coming in at 64.7% and 62.2% above 2020 numbers. Tuna (up 26.2%) and salmon (up 19.7%) were also big sellers. 

“Premiumization is a trend we see in non-holiday weeks as well, benefitting seafood, as nearly a year of lockdown has brought on meal fatigue for many home chefs. Seafood has acquired new buyers and more frequent purchases from those who’d dabbled in seafood previously. This spells exciting things for these categories in the future,” said Parker. “All top 10 fresh seafood types ranked by sales grew in February 2021 versus year ago.” 

The meat department continued to be a strong category with overall department sales up 15.4%. Dollar wise, lamb (up 30.7%) was the top performing meat. Beef was up 17.2%, chicken was up 10.3%, turkey was up 8.5% and pork was up 13.2%.  

The dairy department was elevated 10.8% in the month of February. Cream cheese saw the highest gain in the category at 27.3%, followed by whipped toppings at 25% and natural cheese at 16.8%.   

The produce department saw a sales increase of 10.1%. Vegetables continued to lead the way with an increase of 12.8%, followed by fruit with an increase of 7.4%. Top sellers in the category included peppers (up 21%), potatoes (up 15.6%) and onions (up 15.4%). 

“February had two holidays, Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day, where we typically see a significant part of the dollars go to foodservice,” said Joe Watson, vice president of membership and engagement for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA). “While restaurants are starting to reopen in many states, retail still saw an above-average boost with many grocers offering meal solutions for Super Bowl entertaining and Valentine’s Day at home. Additionally, everyday demand continues to be elevated as the majority of the nation’s school-aged children remain in virtual or hybrid education and many people are still working from home.” 

The deli department continues to see mixed results, although deli prepared is starting to make a comeback. Deli cheese and meat saw gains of 21.9% and 13.9%, respectively. While deli prepared saw a loss of 3.7%, deli entertaining experienced a gain of 9.8%.  

The perimeter bakery is also making a comeback. In February, the bakery department clocked an increase of 1.4% in dollar gains. Croissants and tortillas and flatbreads lead the category with an increase of 19.6% and 17.8%, respectively. 

“In March 2021, sales will go up against the two biggest weeks in the history of grocery retailing and will likely turn negative versus year ago for dairy, deli meat, deli cheese and the bakery aisle,” said Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics. “However, based on the pattern of the last few months, sales are likely still going to track ahead against the baseline of 2019. At the same time, the recovery for deli prepared and the in-store bakery have recovered enough that sales will likely start to track ahead of 2020 numbers.”