The level of sophistication in retail produce data took the next step forward with news that The Perishables Group has access to loyalty card data through an exclusive partnership with Spire LLC.

Through that arrangement, loyalty card transaction data collected from about 30 million households shopping at about a dozen retail chains can be sliced and diced for fresh produce insights.

For example, what produce items do shoppers buy the most?

The top five produce commodities purchased at least once in 2010 were bananas (85.9%), potatoes (84.3%), onions (82.7%), tomatoes (80.5%) and citrus (73%). For the most part, this agrees with The Packer’s own Fresh Trends 2011 research, with bananas at 87% and potatoes at 78%.

The surprise in the loyalty card data? Apples weren’t in the top five, with just 71% of the card users buying apples at least once in the previous 12 months. Of Fresh Trends respondents, 78% report at least one purchase in the last year, second only to bananas.

While these statistics will be of great interest to marketers of these commodities, retailers also will be keenly interested in this pooled resource.

For merchandisers, there may be opportunities to analyze how produce promotions influence purchases of loyalty card holders.

The rapid advance of technology, including the advent of smart phone and Web-based interaction with customers, will reveal a myriad of other ways to know the produce consumer in the years ahead. No matter how it is done, the task is worth the investment.

Did The Packer get it right? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.