Though blueberries and avocados boasted strong gains, U.S. per capita use of fresh fruit has declined slightly in the last five years, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture

Statistics released in November showed that per capita use of fresh fruit was 101.3 pounds in 2009, off from 102.8 pounds in 2004 but up from 97.1 pounds in 1995. The numbers refer to food availability — not necessarily consumption — and what was grown and shipped; it includes shrink and waste, such as peels/rinds and other parts that consumers might have thrown away.

Declines in citrus production and per capita use drove down overall fresh fruit consumption in the recent five-year period, said Agnes Perez, economist with the USDA Economic Research Service,

Per capita use of oranges slid from 10.8 pounds to 9.1 pounds per person, while grapefruit dropped from 4.1 pounds in 2004 to just 2.8 pounds in 2009.

Declines in per capita use were also noted for apples, which sagged from 18.8 pounds in 2004 to 16.4 pounds in 2009. Banana per capita use dipped from 25.8 pounds in 2004 to 24.7 pounds in 2009.

Even so, consumer appreciation of the nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables combined with expanded availability has helped boost consumption since the 1990s, Perez said.

One exceptionally strong recent performer in the fruit category is fresh blueberries, Perez said. The blueberry category has nearly doubled in five years, from 0.56 pounds per person in 2004 to 0.96 pounds per person in 2009. The rapid rise in per capita consumption in the last five years has been fueled by a doubling of blueberry imports, from 64 million pounds to 133 million pounds and a similar rise in domestic production, from 125 million pounds to 226 million pounds.

“We see more year-round supply for blueberries in particular because of the developing industries in the Southern Hemisphere,” Perez said. “Consumers know blueberries will be available during the winter now.”

Other strong performers include strawberries, which rose from 5.5 pounds in 2004 to 7.2 pounds in 2009. Per capita numbers for pineapple rose from 4.4 pounds to 5.1 pounds in the last five years.

Perez said an increasingly diverse ethnic population in the U.S. has helped boost consumption of some tropical and exotic fruit.

Strong marketing efforts by the avocado industry likely played a role in gains for that fruit, Perez said. U.S. per capita use of avocados was rated at 4.1 pounds in 2009, up from 3.1 pounds in 2004 and less than 2 pounds in 2000. The USDA phased in imports of Mexican avocados, leading to increased imports.

She said it is hard to predict the future course of fruit demand, but she said she expects health and nutrition will be important in driving fresh consumption.

“I think consumption will continue to go up,” she said Dec. 1.