The so-called January ‘diet season’ may well be important for superfoods like kale and pomegranates, but winter vegetable staples and a number of other produce categories are, in fact, performing much more strongly at the start of the new year. Alex McDonald, a category analyst within Kantar Worldpanel’s produce team, gives Produce Business UK readers his exclusive insight into the produce winners during the winter of 2015/16
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“Of all the aisles in a supermarket, few change as much with the turning of the seasons as fresh produce,” notes McDonald. “We know the sales figures of berries and soft fruit will soar in the heat of the summer, but as the days get shorter and Christmas approaches, winter vegetables, like carrots and potatoes, start to take control of the market.
“We also know there is more to seasonality than just what the weather’s like outside,” adds McDonald. “Pumpkins see 64% of their annual spend in the weeks around Halloween, and Brussels sprouts garner 23% of their annual spend at Christmas.”
Where does January fit in as a season for produce?
McDonald says January is traditionally seen as ‘the month of the new year’s resolution’, where post-Christmas purges and ‘new year, new me’ sentiments reign supreme. These positive outlooks with which shoppers enter the new year also affect their buying behaviour – albeit to an extent.
“January is the heartland of the superfood, and many, like kale, pomegranate and ginger see their already strong growth accelerating in the early weeks of the new year,” McDonald explains. “However, as agents of seasonality go, the diet season is less powerful than winter as a whole.”
Indeed, when Kantar Worldpanel analysed the data to learn which produce types garner most of their annual sales fall in January, it found that rather than exotic superfoods, winter staple vegetables like leeks, turnips and even Brussels sprouts are actually leading the way.
“It’s only when we compare the importance of January for particular produce types with the rest of the winter, that the month seems to be the territory of the superfoods,” points out McDonald.
According to Kantar Worldpanel, Brussels sprouts are the produce item with the biggest proportion of its annual spend garnered in January; achieving a 13.7% value share in the 52 weeks to January 31, 2016, ahead of other winter vegetables such as turnips, celeriac and swede.
“However, these staples drop out when we look at the data quarterly, and produce types generally regarded as ‘health foods’ are more likely see more of their winter sales generated after Christmas,” notes McDonald.
Indeed, over the 12 weeks to January 31, 2016 the winter vegetables disappear and are replaced with types that correlate more closely the idea of a diet season. Cherries, meanwhile, which traditionally underperform in early winter, recover in the New Year; accounting for their strength in January.
Overall, ginger saw the fastest acceleration in its value growth in the first data period of 2016, compared with its quarterly growth; up 1250%.
“Superfoods like pomegranate [207%] and pak choi [180%] also do well on this [value acceleration] measure [compared with earlier in the winter], but so do larger categories like easy peelers and peas that are performing more strongly now than they were before Christmas,” adds McDonald.
With the exception of easy peeler citrus, the most significant driver of produce performance during January – relative to other winter months – in these produce categories has been penetration.
By product performance
“Ginger has done well for most of the last few years, but it suffered a blip before Christmas, and recovered in January,” explains McDonald. “It’s four-week ending year-on-year growth was slower in January than for some of 2015.’
“After growth rates declined slightly over Christmas, resurgent penetration in January allowed kale’s growth rates to climb back to the stratospheric levels we saw for much of 2015.’
“After being in decline over Christmas 2015, penetration once again became pomegranate’s most significant contributor growth in the first weeks of 2016, and in doing so significantly improved the category’s performance.”
“Like ginger, peas performed relatively poorly in the early part of the winter. But penetration, which had been in decline before Christmas, surged in January.”
“The average price for easy peeler citrus fell sharply in January compared with last year, but penetration and trip volume increases allowed easy peelers to sustain a good festive performance into the new year.”