A slowing in fresh produce inflation and a weak economy were mirrored in slight declines in both retail produce volume and dollars in the first quarter of 2009, a United Fresh Research & Education Foundation report shows.

Inflation caused total produce department dollars to rise moderately in 2008, but the first-quarter report said retailers will face challenges because they can’t rely on higher trending prices in 2009. Instead, retailers must begin to develop plans to move more volume and bring more customers into the store.

First quarter shows hint of challenges ahead

Data from West Dundee, Ill.-based Perishables Group data reveal first-quarter produce department sales were off 1.4% compared with the same period in 2008. Volume per store was down 3% compared with the first quarter last year and the average retail price was up just 1.7% compared to the same period. The quarterly report is published in a joint effort by United Fresh with Miami, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce NA and the Perishables Group.

Other highlights form the report:

  • Value-added produce sales have suffered as consumers trade down to save money. Weekly dollar sales of packaged salads fell by nearly 5% compared with the same quarter a year ago, while bulk lettuce sales rose 6.9%.
  • Berries, grapes and avocados increased in volume during the first quarter.
  • Sales and volume of organic fruit jumped 10% in the first quarter.

The report is available at no charge for United Fresh members and $50 for nonmembers.