As usual, The USDA's weekly National Fruit and Vegetable Retail Report is full of interesting and useful information about advertised retail produce promotions. In periods of market swings such as we have witnessed lately, the report is even more compelling, giving hints to f.o.b. peaks and valleys and providing context to the market in a particular point in time compared with week-ago and year-ago levels.

Here is the summary from the Feb. 18 report:

Advertised Prices for Fruits & Vegetables at Major Retail Supermarket Outlets 02/12 to 02/24

Getting over the Mid-Winter Blues

Post-Valentine’s Day stores brought the emphasis back to savings this week with more 10 for $10, 5 for $5 and buy-one-get-one offers. Meat sales were widely featured in the butcher departments along with stock-up offers on canned goods. Floral departments were dominated by bunched and potted tulips, daffodils, along with springtime bouquets to brighten up homes across America. Apples, grapes, onions (mostly yellow type), potatoes, and oranges were the Top 5 produce items, with mixed salads and asparagus dropping out post-Valentine’s Day.

Oranges, strawberries and pears rounded out the leading fruits. Mixed salads, carrots (mostly baby type) and broccoli (mostly crown cut) completed the Top 5 vegetables. Although Potato Lover’s month is coming to an end, Idaho potato ads were still frequently seen in the Midwest & Northeast regions. For the major ad items, strawberries were 7% higher than last years’ price this week with red delicious apples at 6% and both avocados and cantaloups 5% higher in price per unit from last year. Nectarines and peaches, both yellow flesh, plums and grapefruit each were virtually  unchanged in price from last year.

Mangoes were 10% down in price from this week last year with navel oranges down 8% and pineapple down 7%. Russet potatoes in a 5 lbs bag were 18% higher in price than last year with tomatoes on-the-vine at 10% and baby carrots 5% higher. These are the major ad items (advertised in over 3,000 stores) where an exact price comparison with a year ago is available.

TK: The report includes many more commodities than it has in the past, features expanded organic coverage and the format of the information is easier to digest compared with earlier versions. When you put together all the pie-charts and the national and regional tables with comparisons of stores promoting and average retail price, the weekly retail report is a 20-page mega-read, the Russian novel of market news.

Yet I wish there were more still. I would love to see some kind of f.o.b. equation featured somewhere in the report, to indicate how retail prices correspond with shipping point prices. Perhaps a line graph with the average promoted price per pound with the average shipping point price per pound. The report could be a great consumer tool if it provided the identities of the retail chains linked to ad prices for fruits and vegetables. Do readers of The Packer look to USDA's National Retail Report? How could it be more valuable to the industry? Thoughts welcome here and the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group.