Frequency of purchase drives fresh produce retail sales growth in late 2015
Sainsbury’s was the only major UK retailer to overtrade in produce value versus total grocery value

Frequency of purchase drives fresh produce retail sales growth in late 2015

Gill McShane

During the 12 weeks ended January 3, 2016, frequency drove the increase in purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables at UK grocery retailers, while the fruit category overtook vegetables in terms of sales value for the first time in 2015. Here, Chris Cowan, consumer insight director Kantar Worldpanel UK, gives Produce Business UK readers his exclusive insight into the winners – both retailers and fresh produce categories – during Christmas 2015

View the full presentation here.

“Christmas was, unsurprisingly, a time when the issue of price took centre stage amongst the major multiples, with mixed successes, but the real winner was overall frequency,” explains Cowan. “In the 12 weeks running up to Christmas, UK shoppers bought wholehead produce just over 22 times, up from Christmas 2014.”

However, Cowan is quick to point out that a 3% growth in frequency only equates to one extra trip in every 30 or so households.

How is total produce performing?

The total produce category on the UK grocery retail market is worth £2.1 billion and grew by 4.1% during the 12 weeks ended January 3, 2016, compared with the same period last year.

Much of this growth was driven by shoppers buying produce more often, as frequency was up by 3.1% to 22.3 trips.

Total volume
1.35bn kgs (1.35m tonnes)

Average price


What are the retailer value shares of produce versus total grocery?

Sainsbury’s was the only one of the ‘Big 4’ retailers to overtrade in produce value versus total grocery value during late 2015, albeit only by 16% against 15%.

Tesco, meanwhile, achieved its fair share (26% for both), whereas the share of the produce market within Aldi and Lidl was almost twice the size of their share of total grocery (7% and 8% respectively) at the end of last year.

What drove fruit and vegetable performance?

Fruit is growing faster than vegetables, mainly because price is increasing in fruit but declining in vegetables. However, fruit is still the smaller sales category during the latter stages of the year; representing 47.7% of the value share, versus 52.3% for vegetables.

“Fruit, which overtook vegetables in sales value for the first time in 2015, continues to see strong growth,” points out Cowan.

“It was helped by more premium varieties and ranges doing well, as well as the continued success of the berry market, which topped £1bn in 2015 for the first time, making it the second-largest produce category (after potatoes).

“Encouragingly, for vegetables, the nation bought slightly more frequently this Christmas,” adds Cowan. “But it’s kale that continues to steal the headlines, with 45% growth year-on-year.”

Overall, the value share of the total produce category rose 4.1% year-on-year during the 12-week period to January 3, 2016. Within that, fruit increased by 5.4%, compared with the 2.9% uplift for vegetables.

Frequency was the main driver of growth for the total produce sector.

How are individual fruit sectors performing?

Soft fruits (berries, stonefruit and table grapes) were the big winner in the fruit category; recording a 23.5% jump in volume and 21.4% growth in value over the 12-week period.

Apples and pears were the only categories to post volume declines (-2.5% and -7.9% respectively), but they were joined in value decline by bananas (-1.3%).

Who are the big winners in fruit?

Year-on-year volume growth

  1. Figs +171.2%

  2. Dates +59.8%

  3. Avocados +51.5%

  4. Black table grapes +46.2%

  5. Sharon fruit (persimmon) +45.4%

How are vegetable sectors performing?

All vegetable categories (alliums, brassicas, legumes, potatoes, root vegetables, salads, and others) are in volume growth.

All categories except alliums are also in value growth (onions were down -1.1%).

Root crops and legumes are doing particularly well; with swede and beetroot recording a 7.3% increase in volume, while peas and beans were up 7.9% in volume.

Other vegetables (including mushrooms and corn on the cob) were also up 9.9% in volume terms and 4.4% in value growth.

Who are the big winners in veg?

Year-on-year volume growth

  1. Kale +45%

  2. Asparagus +39.4%

  3. Squash +36.1%

  4. Sweet potatoes +29.4%

  5. Pak choi +27.5%

Who were the Christmas 2015 winners?

  1. Potatoes

  2. Citrus

  3. Soft fruit (berries, stonefruit and grapes)

  4. Avocados

  5. Baby peppers


Potatoes were the largest single contributor to the growth in the vegetable category as a whole during the four weeks of Christmas 2015, adding £5.4 million to the sector.

Potatoes were also the only vegetable to see a price increase (per kg).


Every category in citrus saw value and volume growth over the four-week period, with some of the smaller categories growing by large margins.

“Citrus – another market strong at Christmas – did well but lemons and limes (perhaps spurred on by their multiple uses in drinks as well as as an ingredient) were the fastest growers,” Cowan points out.

Limes were up 38.6% in value and 35.1% in volume during the four-week period, while lemons and limes combined were up 30.8% in value and 33.5% in volume. Grapefruit also saw a rise of 20.8% in value and 19% in volume.

Soft fruit

Soft fruit (comprising berries, stonefruit and grapes) was the fastest-growing produce sector of all in the immediate run-up to Christmas, with all key consumer measures reaching positive territory (penetration, purchase frequency, trip volume and price per kg).

Berries and currants made the largest contribution to the category’s growth, at +27,8% in value and 25.1% in volume.

“Soft fruit – with berries and currants, in particular, continue their meteoric rise, driven by winning new shoppers,” notes Cowan. “But also by extending their place in people’s all year-round repertoire, which has undoubtedly been helped by year-round supply availability within the various retail outlets.”


Avocados remain a seasonal product, and the value of its sales was in decline over the winter.

However, such is the speed with which the category has grown, avocado sales were higher over Christmas 2015 than during their summer peak in 2014.

Baby peppers

Baby peppers more than doubled in value terms during the four weeks of Christmas 2015, compared with last year.

This has been largely driven by the attraction of new shoppers, with penetration doubling (+53%) to 2.2%, and a significant increase in price (+46.2% to £9.23/kg).

During the four-week period over Christmas 2015, baby peppers’ spend was up 114.5%, making the subcategory worth some £772,000.



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